The NFU is calling on members to reinforce our message to ministers that the proposed relaxation of planning controls on residential barn conversions in England should apply in National Parks.
The government is hoping to be able to make an announcement on the outcome of its recent consultation before Christmas.
Communities and Local Government ministers are being urged by other organisations to exclude the Parks from the concession.
Members are encouraged to write to their MP (requesting that they lobby the planning minister) making the following points:
- The need for the relaxation is at least as important in the Parks as elsewhere – with growing concern about the slow or non-existent economic growth in such areas
- There is an acute shortage of affordable homes in some of the areas, so the ability to provide accommodation for family members or workers could be invaluable
- The cost of providing road access, mains electricity and water to isolated field barns in e.g. the Yorkshire Dales is likely to be prohibitively expensive so their conversion to residential (and hence possible harm to the landscape) is highly unlikely.
Our consultation submission supports the proposals but calls for some changes.
While we support the limit of three new dwellings per farm, the proposed limit of 150m2 for both agricultural buildings and new dwellings is too restrictive for the needs of modern families. The NFU believes the limit should be increased to at least 250m2 and the measurements should relate to internal space. Larger dwellings would facilitate home-working and live/work arrangements, whilst still meeting the concerns of local planning authorities and non-farming neighbours.
The option to demolish and rebuild as well as convert existing buildings is welcomed by the NFU. A liberal approach is needed over the type of building eligible for rebuilding so that it includes redundant glasshouses and other buildings that have fallen into disuse because they are uneconomic.
The NFU accepts that prior approval of design is necessary, but not prior approval of the site. If that building has served a purpose on the farm its site has been appropriate in the past, and if there is any reason not to re-use the site the farmer can be expected to be aware of that reason.
It is essential that the scope of prior approval is carefully delineated and kept to the bare minimum required to avoid serious harm. We want to see the introduction of a quick and inexpensive means of appealing to a third party against a local planning authority’s unreasonable decision in relation to prior approval.
The principle of the proposed safeguards, to prevent misuse of the concession, was supported in responses to NFU surveys. Members accept that it would be appropriate to withdraw agricultural permitted development rights for several years after the change of use, and that the concession should not apply to agricultural buildings erected since the proposal was first announced.
However, it is common for a farmer to have two or more agricultural holding numbers and to run more than one farm as a single business. In such circumstances, it would be disproportionate to withdraw agricultural permitted development rights for a decade from all the land in the same ownership or even from all land run as a single business. Careful use of terminology is needed to ensure that such farmers are not inadvertently penalised.
Protection for tenants
A key concern for the NFU is to ensure that tenants are not disadvantaged by the proposals. In particular, the wording of the Order should not make it any easier for a landlord to recover possession of part of a holding.
In addition, the NFU believes that a landlord should be required to notify agricultural tenants when writing to a local planning authority with the intention to change the use of one or more buildings. This is the requirement that applies to applications for planning permission.
Listed buildings are excluded from the proposals for new permitted development rights. Currently there are around 30,000 listed farmhouses and just over 30,000 listed agricultural buildings in the country. A further 100,000 or more farm buildings are subject to listed building controls merely because they are deemed to be within the curtilage of a listed farmhouse.
The NFU is calling for the exclusion to be re-considered. An alternative approach for listed buildings could be based on the Site Assessment Framework developed by English Heritage which helps farmers to identify the capacity for change and potential challenges at an early stage in the process. We are in discussion with English Heritage and hope to develop a simple, DIY guide to assessments suitable for a lay-person.
The proposals are intended to apply to ‘Article 1 (5) areas’, which include National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This will be fiercely resisted: the CPRE and National Parks England have made clear their opposition. However, we have said that the need for access to affordable housing is as great in National Parks as elsewhere; a report commissioned by the National Parks and published in May identified a number of challenges including lack of affordable housing, a static population and sluggish economic growth; and there are safeguards that will protect the landscape. Hence the government should persevere and allow the relaxation throughout Article 1 (5) areas as elsewhere.
Throughout the farming industry there is widespread support for the proposals, including the safeguards to prevent misuse of the concession. Our survey shows that farmers would use the freedom responsibly and can be trusted to do the right thing with their assets. Some adjustments are needed to provide more flexibility and facilitate the use of listed buildings with the minimum amount of red tape.
The precise wording of the amended Order will be important to address tax and land-tenure issues, but the NFU is broadly supportive and keen to see the changes introduced as soon as possible throughout England, including Article 1 (5) areas.
We expect the government to take at least two months to consider the consultation responses following the deadline earlier this week, but it is possible that changes will be made in time for farmers to begin firming up their plans in the spring of next year.