How to Get Planning Permission on Agricultural Land
England and Wales are famed for their green and pleasant land. But what you can do with that land differs depending on its use class, where it is located, whether it is allocated as a site for future housing, and whether any other designations cover it (for example if it is in the Green Belt or in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).
What is agricultural land?
Much of the British countryside is classified as agricultural land – pasture (laid to grass) and arable (cultivated for crops). If you happen to own a farm or a business related to farming or forestry then the buildings and structures built on that land will also be in agricultural use, and you will typically possess something called an Agricultural Holding Number, issued by Defra, that relates to the holding you possess.
Importantly, and sometimes confusingly, land and buildings used for the keeping of horses have their own use class (equestrian) which is NOT the same as agricultural land and requires a different approach. However, if the land is only used for the grazing of horses (and not to shelter or house them, ride them etc) then the land is still considered to be agricultural. It should be noted that it is generally easier to change the use of equestrian land back to agricultural use than vice versa. In either case, planning permission will be required for the change of use through a ‘full’ planning application.
What can I build on agricultural land without planning permission?
The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (TCPA) says agricultural land can only be used for “horticulture, fruit growing, seed growing, dairy farming, the breeding and keeping of livestock, as grazing land, meadow land, osier land, market gardens and nursery grounds, and the use of land for woodlands where that use is ancillary to the farming of land for other agricultural purposes”. The General Permitted Development Order under Schedule 2, Part 6 gives agricultural holdings that are larger than 5 hectares (12.5 acres) permitted development rights to build and extend agricultural buildings, erect fences, carry out excavations and run caravan sites (subject to certain restrictions).
Prior approval can sometimes be required for such permitted development so it is always worth checking with a planning agent and you should be aware these permitted development rights usually don’t apply to listed buildings, conservation areas, areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs), national parks, World Heritage Sites and SSSIs. Permitted development rights still apply in the Green Belt unless the local authority has removed them. If you are looking to build anything over and above what is covered under agricultural permitted development you will require a planning application to be submitted, be it for full or outline planning permission, outlining the intended change of use.
Can I change from agricultural use to residential?
There is a clause under Class Q of the GDPO that allows agricultural units to be converted to residential use under agricultural permitted development rights, however, there are several criteria that must be met to achieve this and it can be very easy to fall foul of the rules:
- The first criterion is that the building in question must have been in active agricultural use on 20th March 2013 (that is, used for storing agricultural livestock, machinery, grain etc) and the possession of an agricultural holding number will be key to proving this. This rule is set to change slightly in the near future to become a rolling ten-year period (i.e. if today is the 1st January 2024, then the unit must have been in agricultural use on 1st January 2014).
- Work must not have already commenced on the conversion and most importantly the building must be capable of conversion in the first place (because no new openings or additions are made to the external fabric of the building, and it cannot have its roof raised).
- Depending on the size of the building being converted it is possible to create up to five new residential units from one agricultural building (a mixture of smaller dwellings of up to 100m2 and larger ones between 100m2 and 465m2). The maximum conversion area that is permitted under Class Q is 865m2 (and this includes the newly create mezzanine floor space as well as the ground floor footprint).
- Additionally, any new garden space being created cannot have an area that exceeds the size of the associated dwelling.
How do I apply for Class Q permitted development?
You will need to apply for prior approval from the local authority to undertake a Class Q conversion to ensure that your plans comply with the permitted development criteria. Individual local authorities can sometimes add their own criteria to a Class Q prior approval application, for example in Shropshire only older agricultural units or farm structures that are deemed to be ‘heritage assets’ can be converted under Class Q, and the local authority will not allow conversions to take place within working farmyards due to the noises and smells that potential occupants of the dwellings may be subjected to as a result.
Can I change from agricultural use to commercial?
Yes, this can also be done using permitted development rights under Class R of the GDPO (providing the building is not listed nor a scheduled monument and is not located in a safety hazard or explosives storage area). Found in Schedule 2, Part 3 of the GDPO, Class R will enable you to create a flexible commercial use on agricultural holding by converting an existing agricultural building to commercial storage, an office, café, shop, hotel or gym. Helpfully for some landowners, being in a national park, AONB or conservation area is not considered a constraint under Class R. Any new ‘flexible commercial use’ will be regarded as part of the ‘Sui Generis’ use class. The criteria for a Class R agricultural to commercial conversion are:
- The agricultural unit must have been in agricultural use ten years ago (specifically on 3rd July 2012, although the rolling ten-year rule is now being widely used)
- The total floor area cannot exceed 500m2
- The building doesn’t need to be redundant already
- If the convertible area is greater than 150m2 a prior approval application will need to be submitted to the local authority which will consider the impacts the development will have on transport, highways, noise, floor risk and contamination risk.
- If prior approval is given, you can convert the building once again to another flexible commercial use under permitted development. Anything else would however need a planning application.
How do I request a change of use on agricultural land?
Beyond that which can be undertaken through permitted development, it is not an easy process to obtain planning permission to develop agricultural land. However, there are steps you can take to help your chances of gaining planning permission on (and maximising the value of) agricultural land that you may already own or have inherited. This is because councils have a statutory obligation to have at least five years’ supply of housing land in hand that can be allocated for the provision of future homes – so they are constantly on the lookout for suitable potential sites they can allocate as the local population grows – both for open market and local needs housing.
If you own agricultural land that adjoins an existing settlement then you are already part way there, as new housing tends to be added to the edge of established settlements where the existing infrastructure of roads, schools and healthcare can be used, rather than by creating brand new settlements. To make the most of any potential opportunity your land offers, you should ensure you are actively promoting it to the local authority as a potential future housing site and having it included within the settlement’s development boundary. You would need to keep a lookout for the council undertaking a ‘call for sites’ process which is done every few years when they are reviewing their local plan and looking for sites on which to allocate future housing (for both large and small estates). In this case, it is advisable to secure the services of a planning agent to promote your land to the local authority and be on the front foot in getting it under the planners’ noses and potentially allocated.
Of course, if you own agricultural land that is already included within a settlement’s development boundary then the principal of development on that land is already deemed acceptable and you (or a development partner) can go ahead and submit an application knowing that your chances of success are already very good.
How do I get planning permission on agricultural land?
As has been discussed, it can be extremely difficult to get planning permission for any new development or house on land that is not close to an existing town or village. You can apply for full or outline planning permission to try to secure a change of use on agricultural land, but unless the land in question is already included in the council’s local plan or has been designated as a future housing site, the chances of achieving permission are slim.
Nonetheless, if you are a farmer or the owner of a smallholding or agricultural business you may be able to make use of one of the following additional options available to you:
Agriculturally tied dwellings
A farmer or agricultural business owner can apply for planning permission for a modest agricultural worker’s dwelling of up to 100m2 (plus an additional 25% in exceptional cases) on agricultural land. This route is usually taken as part of succession planning within a family business or when a farming family outgrows the available accommodation on the farm. A full planning application will need to be submitted to the local authority and must be accompanied by an agricultural needs assessment (incorporating a business plan) undertaken by an agricultural consultant or rural advisor. Additional proof of need will also be required outlining a lack of any alternative suitable local accommodation to rent or buy (and where this exists any additional accommodation is unlikely to be granted), and the need for an individual to be located on the land 24/7 to tend to livestock or for security. Any resulting permission granted will usually have an agricultural tie placed upon it.
Temporary planning permissions for mobile homes
In some special circumstances it might be possible to get temporary planning permission granted for a mobile home on agricultural land, and in instances where this is approved the permission would normally be accompanied by specific conditions outlining the period of time the permission covers and whether it is restricted to certain named occupants). Temporary permission of this nature can apply where there is no requirement for someone to live on the land permanently and so could last for only a temporary period of time, or seasonally, for example when temporary agricultural workers are employed during lambing or for fruit picking.
Applying for a certificate of lawful existing use or development (CLEUD)
In some rare cases, it may be possible to regularise a residential use on agricultural land that doesn’t already benefit from planning permission but that has become lawful through the passage of time. An example of this would be where a mobile home has been stationary and lived in continually as a primary residence (perhaps by an agricultural worker or someone else) for more than ten years. If the mobile home has not already been subject to enforcement action by the council and has not been concealed, the council can be asked to grant a certificate of lawful existing use or development (CLEUD) to regularise the situation and confirm that the mobile home has effectively become a permanent residence (and is therefore lawful). Anyone finding themselves in this situation would need to obtain the advice of a specialist planner who could outline the evidence that would need to be provided to demonstrate the residential use including things like addressed bills, dated photographs and witness statements.
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