Flexibility could be Good News for Rural Plans

Apex rural planning

A government consultation of change of use could offer hope to those in rural areas seeking to create residences from industrial and farm properties…

Rural Planning

The government has published a consultation on permitted development rights, which could offer would-be developers of rural commercial and agricultural properties more flexibility. For those of you that have been watching ‘Clarkson’s Farm’, you’ll recognise that this issue is in part right up Jeremy Clarkson’s street!

The consultation, which includes a DEFRA ‘call for evidence’, is running for nine weeks – closing on 25 September.

The aim of the consultation document is to offer more flexibility in order to support housing delivery, the agricultural sector, businesses, and high streets. It’s also calling for evidence on nature-based solutions, farm efficiency projects and diversification.

Changes to Permitted Development Rights

Proposed changes to the Class MA (change of use from Class E – commercial business and services, to Class C3 – dwelling houses) would see the allowed floor space increased to 3,000 sq m (or the restriction could be removed altogether). Unlike the current situation, developers would also not have to show that the building had been vacant for three months or more – allowing speedier development to take place. It would also apply within previously restricted areas such as AONB and National Parks (but not World Heritage sites). The proposed changes would also be opened up to allow for hotels to be transformed into residential dwellings.

In high streets, restrictions on the floor space allowed to be converted when changing businesses such as hot food takeaways, betting offices, and payday loan shops would also be increased or removed completely – however launderettes, which previously came under this class, would no longer be eligible as it is considered that ‘Launderettes can provide a valuable community service in certain areas’.

For agricultural landowners, the restrictions on converting agricultural buildings to dwellings would also change. Present restrictions allow only five houses to be created – and only three or fewer can be ‘larger dwellinghouses’. Under the proposed change, there would be no limitations on smaller or larger homes, and instead a maximum floor space would be imposed – of either 100 or 150 sq m per home. Developers would also be able to create up to 10 new homes. They would also be allowed to develop outside of the original footprint of the building – with rear single storey-extensions to the original building allowed to a maximum depth of 4 metres, across the entire width of the existing rear elevation, where the land has previously been developed – for instance where a hard surface for a farmyard had already been created.

To be eligible for these changes, a building must already be at least 37 sq m. Again, these changes would also apply in AONB and National Parks, but not World Heritage Sites. It would also apply to buildings that had not previously been used for agricultural use.

Flexible Use

The amendments could also see agricultural buildings used for outdoor sports and recreational activities such as fitness and paintballing in another proposed change, which would allow them to change to ‘flexible use’. Other uses could include food processing and farm shops, with the aim of allowing flexible commercial uses that ‘would support the rural economy’. The changes would also allow for mixed uses, such as a farm shop and hotel.

The proposal changes are part of an ongoing raft of amendments to permitted development rights, which have been taking place over the past couple of years, including the ability to re-use or change the use of commercial property and industrial property, to different uses, including residential.

Like with so many other permitted development rights there will be pros and cons – the greater flexibility afforded, and the removal of current limitations and other conditions are likely to be viewed positively by those who own property, particularly where it is vacant, or by potential occupiers need a quick decision. However, in other respects, local planning authorities will groan at the stripping away of planning controls and the short-cutting of normal planning policy, perhaps to the detriment of areas, albeit not necessarily widespread.

These potential new permitted development rights are not guaranteed, however.  If you wish to seek to influence the government’s decision, one way or the other, or to simply shape the new permitted development rights in a more refined way, you have until 25 September to make your views known. Instructions on how to do this can be found via the Permitted Development Rights page on the Gov.uk website.

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