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Rural Planning and Development Opportunities Update – May 2021

The recent national media speculation that a planning bill would be included in the government’s legislative programme over the next year was finally confirmed in the much anticipated Queen’s speech in May where Her Majesty announced that “Laws to modernise the planning system, so that more homes can be built, will be brought forward.”


The planning bill is intended to create a simpler, faster, and more modern planning system, ensuring homes and infrastructure can be delivered more quickly across England. This is big news for the sector which is expecting the bill to result in the biggest shake up of the planning system for 70 years.  According to the background briefing notes the bill is intended to “Transform our planning system from a slow document-based one to a more efficient and easier to use digital and map-based service, allowing more active public engagement in the development of their local area”.


The main elements of the bill as set out in this document will be:

  • Changing local plans so they provide more certainty over the type, scale and design of development permitted on different categories of land.
  • Significantly decreasing the time it takes for developments to go through the planning system.
  • Replacing the existing developer contributions systems with a new more predictable and more transparent levy.
  • Using post-Brexit freedoms to simplify and enhance the framework for environmental assessments for developments.

Ministers are expected to enact a radical shift in the way decisions are made on new developments by zoning land either for ‘growth’, where developers will be allowed to build homes and related infrastructure such as schools and hospitals without individual planning consents, or ‘protection’ where development will be restricted.


There is a concern amongst some planning professionals that rural areas are once again being left behind, whilst others are concerned that the proposed changes will result in a dramatic loosening of planning laws to create a housebuilding boom resulting in the destruction of large swathes of countryside.


Is there a danger the changes brought forward through the planning bill will result in many rural areas being washed over with protection policies as part of this new zoning approach? There is much more detail needed to understand the implications for rural areas, but in the meantime, Local Plan consultations are still going ahead. Local Authorities are required to prepare and maintain an up-to-date Local Plan which is designed to guide future development within their District. These consultations provide opportunities for landowners to put land forward for consideration as future housing or employment sites.


Not all land will be suitable and the main factors to consider include proximity to existing settlements, size of settlement, suitability of available access, flood risk, potential impact on nearby heritage assets, and presence of protected species. The promotion of land to Local Plan consultations can be a slow burn, which is something the planning bill is looking to address, but other recent changes to planning legislation have improved shorter term opportunities for development in rural areas.


Class Q in the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 2015 (GDPO), for example, allows for development consisting of a change of use of an agricultural building to a use falling within Use Class C3 (dwelling houses). A further amendment to the Act increased the number of dwellings permitted from three to five.


Class Q signals a supportive stance from the Government to landowners with redundant buildings. This is a positive step for rural areas and offers considerable opportunity to enhance income generation from rural buildings and to add value to existing assets.


Class R of the GDPO also allows for a change of use from an agricultural building and land within its curtilage under PD rights, but this time to a ‘Flexible Use’ falling within various commercial Use Classes. These flexible uses include shops, financial and professional services, restaurants and cafes, offices, workshops, storage or distribution, hotels, leisure and community uses.


Another recent amendment to the GPDO has increased the maximum floor area of new agricultural buildings to 1,000 sqm on agricultural units of five hectares or more. The amendment also allowed for buildings on units of less than 5 hectares to be extended by up to 20%, to a maximum of 1,000 sqm. An additional benefit is that there is a substantial reduction in planning fees for applicants. For example, a 1,000 sqm building would incur a planning application fee of £3,696, whereas a prior notification for an agricultural building has a flat fee of £96.


These measures allow development in rural areas to come forward and can be a way of avoiding the often restrictive policies of local planning authorities and highly politicised planning committee decision making process. It will be interesting to see the detail of the planning bill and how it is interpreted by planning officers and members. Either way, there will continue to be a busy appeals process in operation.


A transcript of the speech in full can be viewed here


The background briefing note can be downloaded here


For further information on this and to discuss any related planning matters please contact our Head of Planning Dan Hewett