Planning permission changes are ‘essential opportunities’, says NFU

Disused barn building

The government has announced new planning laws for England which seek to cut red tape and give farmers greater freedom to grow and diversify their businesses.

The changes follow a consultation from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities last year, which proposed a massive expansion to current permitted development rights in England.

NFU Vice President Rachel Hallos said “it’s encouraging to see that nearly all of our suggestions from last year’s consultation were included in the announcement,” after the NFU submitted a response in favour of the proposals.

Key asks which have come into force included:

  • expanding and extending the size of buildings that can be erected with permitted development, and
  • expanding the changes of use within buildings on farms.

The changes mean farmers will be able to convert agricultural buildings and land into business opportunities, such as outdoor sports facilities, larger farm shops and farm training centres, as well as housing, without the need for a planning application.

Read our deep dive into what the new proposals mean for you.

Changes welcome but livestock left out

NFU Vice President Rachel Hallos said the law change would “greatly support the modernisation, expansion and diversification of farms across the country”.

She said: “These changes are essential opportunities for farmers who wish to diversify their business, allowing them alternative streams of income and the ability to further support their local rural economy.

"However, it is disappointing to see that livestock buildings remain excluded from the changes.

“While it's good news that Class Q rights, which allow farmers to convert agricultural buildings into homes, are being expanded, as the NFU has long asked for more rural housing, it's also disappointing that these will not be extended to protected landscapes either.”

These changes are essential opportunities for farmers who wish to diversify their business.”

NFU Vice President Rachel Hallos

Previous restrictions under Class Q meant that no more than five barns could be converted into homes; this has now increased to ten and the total combined areas of these homes has been increased to to 1,000sqm from 865sqm.

The expansions of Class Q were not extended to protected landscapes. In our consultation response, we did not consider the alteration of an existing structure would cause a significant impact to these landscapes.

“These areas are often the hardest for new housing to be developed on and opening up this option for farmers could significantly benefit their local communities,” Rachel added.

The NFU did not support the expansion of permitted development rights in the setting of scheduled ancient monuments. The government has announced that rights for the extension and expansion of new buildings in the setting of scheduled ancient monuments would be removed.

Farming Minister Mark Spencer said he was pleased to give farmers “the freedom to decide the best uses for buildings on their land, without needless bureaucracy holding them back”.

He said the government was listening to farmers, and that helping them secure their businesses was a “top priority”.

What do the planning changes mean for me?

Barn to residential conversions

Under Class Q of part 3 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development etc.) (England) (Amendment) Order 2024 a barn on an agricultural holding can be converted into a single or multiple homes without applying for planning permission.

As well as increasing the number of homes which can be converted and the total combined area size, the floor changes have simplified Class Q enormously.

Previously, this required a complex calculation on the number of homes that can be squeezed into 865sqm to a maximum of 5, with a mix of ‘smaller’ and ‘larger’ homes. Now a simple floor space maximum, as well as a simple cap of 10 homes, has streamlined the process.

Individual homes are capped at 150sqm per unit, but would have to be limited to 100sqm to achieve a maximum delivery of 10 homes, due to the maximum floor limit of 1,000sqm.

Class Q does allow new protrusions from the structure of no more than 0.2 metres. Extensions are permitted to facilitate the provision of homes under Class Q, which must be:

  • No more than one storey in height.
  • Is situated at the rear of the building.
  • Extends beyond the rear building wall by more than 4 metres.
  • Extends beyond a wall that forms a side or principal elevation (front/faces a public highway) of the existing building (in other words is not visible from the front of the building, nor extends past the rear building wall).

Class Q will not apply to Article 2(3) land, listed buildings, or sites that are or contain scheduled ancient monuments.

Buildings or hardstanding erected after 24 July 2023 are not eligible for Class Q until 10 years has passed.

It is important to note that prior approval must be sought from the local authority before any works can begin.

Agricultural buildings to a flexible commercial use

Under permitted development right Class R of part 3, agricultural buildings may be converted into a variety of commercial uses.

The new permitted development rights now includes Class E (commercial, business or service).

The list of what is now permitted is as follows:

  • General industrial (B2)
  • Storage or distribution (B8)
  • Hotels (C1)
  • Commercial, business or service (Class E) or
  • Outdoor sport and recreation (F,2(c))
  • Agricultural training.

Farmers and landowners can now benefit from a massive expansion to the range of uses for their buildings.

There has been an increase in the total internal volume that can converted to the above uses from 500sqm to 1,000sqm. The doubling of provision provides enormous potential for farmers and landowners to diversify their operations, as well as expand their existing operations without applying for planning permission.

Those wishing to use their land for general industrial (B2) may only carry out the following operations:

  • Processing of raw goods (excluding livestock), which are produced on site and are to be sold on site.
  • Processing goods ancillary to any processing of raw goods.

Please note that Class R cannot be used for any other processing of goods that are not to be sold on site or are to be transported and sold elsewhere. If you wish to do this then you will have to submit a full planning application.

New agricultural buildings for farming operations

Two permitted development rights exist to allow farms to add buildings without applying for planning permission.

The first is on agricultural units of 5ha or more. Known as Class A of part 6, the right allows the erection and extension of buildings to support farming operations. The right also includes space for engineering operations of up to 1,000 sqm.

The size of buildings that can be erected/extended has increased from 1,000sqm to 1,500sqm. Allowing for a far greater amount of to be done without applying for planning permission.

Proposals also include a slight expansion to the cubic content limit of the original building, going from 20% to 25%. Essentially meaning the size of extensions can be larger compared to the size of the original building.

Similar to Class A of part 6, Class B of part 6 refers to agricultural units less than 5ha. Though smaller than Class A, Class B now allows new extensions of 1,250sqm up from 1,000sqm. The cubic content of new extensions has also been increased to 25% from 20%. Note new agricultural buildings are not permitted under Class B of part 6.

Recent reforms have removed the ability to use Classes A and B of part 6 in the curtilage (setting/grounds) of a scheduled ancient monument.

*This article was updated on 23.05.24 to correct the reference to Class B, which only allows extensions and alterations. 

This information is not exhaustive and the NFU advises the use of a planning agent as well as full consideration of the legislation which can be found at: GOV.UK | The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development etc.) (England) (Amendment) Order 2024.

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This page was first published on 22 May 2024. It was updated on 23 May 2024.

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