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It’s time to review agricultural assets

Rejuvenating rural economies by giving redundant buildings new life

Temporary amendments to the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO), allow qualifying agricultural buildings to be converted for alternative uses without planning permission. The new permitted development rights are in place for three years from May 2013 and aim to rejuvenate rural economies through re-use of redundant buildings. 
Planners can play an important role in guiding farmers to ensure their proposals fulfill the necessary criteria. They will also need to communicate the limitations of the new planning development rights. 
These only apply to the principle of use. Permission will still need to be sought where external alterations are planned and building regulations and other non-planning approvals may also be required. 
What do the changes allow? Planning permission will not be needed to convert agricultural buildings into shops, cafes, small hotels, leisure facilities and certain offices. The changes do not allow conversion into dwellings, schools or nurseries. However, the government has consulted on proposals to establish development rights for these which, if approved, are likely to start in April 2014. 
There are limitations. The new provisions cannot be relied on where a building has a cumulative floor space exceeding 500m2; is listed or a scheduled monument; or part of a military or storage hazard area. Nor can they be relied on if the building is in an area where an Article 4 direction removes the benefit of these provisions. Furthermore, the provisions do not apply to buildings not in agricultural use since 3 July 2012 or, if brought into use after this, had not been in agricultural use for 10 years. 
Where a proposal satisfies the requirements, a building with a cumulative floor space of less than 150m2  will still require written notification to the local planning authority setting out details of changes together with a plan and date for the change of use. Buildings with a floor space of 150m -500m2 require an application for prior approval with a fee of £80 so that the impact can be assessed. If the local planning authority has not responded to an application for prior approval after 56 days, development can proceed. 
Planners need to be alive to this timeframe and of the ramifications if the deadline passes. Given the changes are only in place for three years there will be a renewed impetus for farmers to review their assets to see whether they can take advantage of the new rights. Planners have an important role to play in ensuring farmers are clear as to the scope and limitation of the rights that apply. 
Polly Reynolds is a planning solicitor at Veale Wasbrough Vizards

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