Know Your Rights: A Guide to Permitted Development

Posted by Lee May on 7th July 2011

Farmers enjoy a range of permitted development rights which mean that planning permission is not normally required for much of what they do. However, the rules are complicated and it is not always clear when rights apply. This overview of the system may help farmers avoid some of the pit-falls.

The Need for Planning Permission

The use of land for agriculture is not development and as such does not require planning permission. In contrast the erection of new farm buildings or the extension or alteration of existing buildings is development and would normally require permission from the local Council.

However, under the General Permitted Development Order 1995 planning permission is automatically granted for many forms of agricultural development. These “permitted development rights” depend upon the size of the agricultural unit in question. They are also subject to various exclusions and limitations and in some cases you must still apply to the Council for a decision as to whether their prior approval is required for certain details of the development.

Permitted Development Rights

If the agricultural units is of 5 hectares or more planning permission is automatically granted for the erection, extension or alteration of a building or any excavation or engineering operations. This confers a very broad range of permitted development rights.

For units of between 0.4 and 5 hectares there are more restricted rights. In particular, there is no right to erect new buildings.

No permitted development rights exist for units under 0.4 hectares nor where the development would otherwise require an Environmental Impact Assessment.

In all cases development is only permitted if it is “reasonably necessary for the purposes of agriculture” within the agricultural unit. The unit must also be operating as a trade or business. Identifying the “agricultural unit” and its size are not always straight forward. There can also be problems in defining what is meant by reasonably necessary.


There are various limits on the permitted development rights; for example:

  • they do not apply to dwellings
  • any building must be “designed for agricultural purposes”;
  • any structures for accommodating livestock, plant or machinery must not exceed 465 square metres;
  • buildings used for the accommodation of livestock or for the storage of sludge or slurry must not be within 400 metres of certain protected buildings, including neighbouring residences;
  • no building may be higher than 12 metres (3 metres if within 3 kilometres of an aerodrome); and
  • no part of the development can be within 25 metres of a classified or trunk road;

Prior Approval procedure

Some forms of permitted development still need the “prior approval” of the Council for their siting design and external appearance. This includes the erection of new buildings and significant alterations or extensions of existing buildings.

In these cases you must notify the Council of your proposal in advance. They then have 28 days to decide whether prior approval is required. If it is not then you can go ahead with the development. If the Council decide that prior approval is required, then this triggers a procedure similar to a planning application, albeit slightly simpler.

Know Your Rights

The rules are complicated and there are many traps for the unwary. If you are carrying out development which is not “permitted development” then you will need a specific grant of planning permission, which can be expensive and time consuming to secure, so your permitted development rights are a useful tool in running a successful farming enterprise. A clear understanding of the rules and how to maximise your rights is essential.

Lee May

Tel. 01622 680431

Email Lee