• For rural land owners, the process of developing and building on their land can be complicated by the need to obtain planning permissions, which can often be lengthy and complex. However, certain types of development benefit from pre-approved planning permissions, known as permitted development rights (PDRs). It is useful to understand, prior to any development plans, when these apply, the different types and their limitations.

    The benefit of permitted development rights for farmers

    Under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, planning permission is required for the “development” of land. Development includes building, engineering and mining operations (known as operational development) as well as material changes in the use of land or buildings.

    Obtaining planning permission to erect a new building in the countryside can be expensive and time consuming. A bewildering array of reports and surveys are often required to address the impact of the development. Planning legislation recognises that it is not always appropriate to require farmers to go to these lengths when the building in question is needed in the ordinary course of running an agricultural business.

    This is reflected in the creation a range of permitted development rights which benefit farmers and which can be relied upon to allow development to proceed without having to go through the full planning process. These rights are set out in Part 6 of Schedule 2 of the General Permitted Development Order 2015.

    Types of permitted development rights

    There are slightly different rights available depending upon the size of the agricultural unit upon which the development is to take place.

    Class A applies to agricultural units of five hectares or more and grants permitted development rights for:

    • works for the erection, extension or alteration of a building; or
    • any excavation or engineering operations.

    Class B applies to agricultural units, of not less than 0.4 but less than five hectares in area; in which case the rights allow:

    • the extension or alteration of an agricultural building;
    • the installation of additional or replacement plant or machinery;
    • the provision, rearrangement or replacement of a sewer, main, pipe, cable or other apparatus;
    • the provision, rearrangement or replacement of a private way;
    • the provision of a hard surface;
    • the deposit of waste; or
    • the carrying out certain operations in connection with fish farming.

    In both cases the development must be reasonably necessary for the purposes of agriculture within the agricultural unit. The Council will not always agree with the farmer’s assessment of whether a new building is “reasonably necessary for the purposes of agriculture” and this can make for some interesting discussions and can result in appeals.

    Exclusions and limitations

    Another factor to bear in mind is that there are certain exclusions from and limits to the availability of the rights. The rules are complex and vary depending upon the type of proposed development, where it is to take place and whether you are relying upon Class A or B. There is not the space here to set them out in detail.

    However, by way of example, one exclusion common to all proposals is that no part of the development may be within 25 metres of a metalled part of a trunk road or classified road. Another example is that the rights do not authorise works to a building used for the accommodation of livestock or the storage of slurry or sewage sludge, where the building is within 400 metres of the curtilage of non-farm dwellings.

    Finally, even if permitted development rights are available, it is still necessary in most cases to apply to the Council for what is called ‘prior approval’ before the proposed development can take place.  Whilst this is not as onerous as a full planning application, it can still require the submission of details to the Council and the Council can have a say over issues such as the siting, design and external appearance of the building.

    If permitted development rights are not available, then there is still the option of applying to the local planning authority for a specific grant of planning permission. However, in those cases the application will need to be assessed against local and national planning policies and the Council will need to take a balanced view on whether the proposal is acceptable.

    The key is to get appropriate advice regarding what you can lawfully achieve without planning permission and if permission is needed, then how it can best be secured.

    This article was first published in the March 2022 edition of South East Farmer.

    This content is correct at time of publication

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