• From 6 April 2014 two new classes of permitted development have been added to the General Permitted Development Order which will provide the opportunity to change the use of existing retail and agricultural buildings into dwellings. This marks a major shift in planning policy to be welcomed by many landowners and farmers. These changes have the potential to unlock significant opportunities for rural businesses.

    The most radical change is the introduction of a new Class MB which allows a change of use of agricultural buildings to residential.

    It also authorises certain building works which are necessary to carry out the conversion. The new Class MA allows a change to use as a school or nursery. These changes build upon earlier amendments to the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO) which allowed changes to office use. However, the rules are very complicated and will not apply in all cases. Furthermore, utilising these new rights can have a knock on effect limiting the ability to make use of other agricultural permitted development rights on the farm holding.

    In both cases, the rights only apply to buildings which were solely used for agriculture as part of an established agricultural unit on 20th March 2013, or if the building was not in use on that date then when it was last in use.

    If the building was brought into use after 20th March 2013, then, in order to benefit from the rights it must have been in use solely for agriculture for a period of ten years. Clearly this latter situation will not arise until 21st March 2023 at the earliest.

    There are limits on the cumulative floor space which can be converted within the agricultural unit (500sqm for Class MA and 450sqm for Class MB). Listed buildings are also excluded, as are buildings within a SSSI and certain other areas.

    The new rights are targeted at redundant or surplus agricultural buildings. In order to achieve that aim, various stringent controls have been put in place. In particular, the permitted development rights will not apply where certain other agricultural permitted development rights have been implemented since 20th March 2013. Also, by implementing Class MA or MB rights, other agricultural permitted development rights are sacrificed for a period of ten years. Finally, it is still necessary to apply to the Council for “prior approval” in relation to issues such as transport and highways impacts, noise impact, contamination risk and flood risk. The Council also have the power to consider the suitability of the location for the proposed use – this subjective test clearly has the potential to be used by the Council to resist development they consider undesirable.

    The criteria for benefiting from the Class MA and MB rights are strict and will exclude many agricultural buildings. But the potential for unlocking a residential use for redundant farm buildings has finally arrived.

    This content is correct at time of publication

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