Planning: new guidance for farm shops, poly tunnels and reservoirs

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) published some very welcome guidance clarifying when planning permission is required in relation to three types of rural development. We summarise the guidance and highlight a few relevant issues to consider

Farm shops

Farm shops can be developed either under existing “permitted development (PD) rights” or by obtaining planning permission.

The relevant PD rights are contained in Class R of Part 3 of Schedule 2 to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015, which allows change of use of agricultural buildings to a flexible commercial use, when certain conditions are met.

The terms of the PD rights differ depending whether the farm shop would exceed 150 m2 cumulative floor space. If it does not exceed this limit the applicant just has to send certain information to the local planning authority (“LPA”). This comprises the date the site will begin to be used for any of the flexible uses; the nature of the use or uses; and a plan indicating the site and which buildings have changed use.

Where the development of a farm shop would be greater than 150 m2 cumulative floor space, but does not exceed 500 m2 an application for prior approval must be made to the LPA. This is to allow the local authority to consider any potential impacts of the proposed farm shop development (e.g. changes in traffic, noise, contamination and flood risk) and decide how these can best be mitigated.

Where a planning application is submitted the  new  guidance advises applicants to  consider both national policy (set out in the National Planning Policy Framework) and local plan policies when developing the proposal.

When considering applications for a PD prior approval or planning permission, the LPA may propose granting permission with conditions in respect of the farm shop development. The guidance provides that in imposing any conditions: “local planning authorities should be mindful of the viability of the business and ensure that the conditions are proportionate and reasonably related to issues directly connected to the proposed farm shop. Planning conditions imposed in relation to a prior approval must only be related to the subject matter of the prior approval.”

So size is critical. If the floor space of the proposed farm shop can be reduced to bring the farm shop within a more favourable planning category, then it might be worth redesigning the site to simplify the planning procedure.

Poly-tunnels

The development of poly-tunnels has caused considerable controversy over the last decade as their use has become more widespread. Whether planning consent is required will depend on the individual circumstances, such as the extent, size, scale, permanence, movability and the degree of attachment to the land of the  poly-tunnels.

Some development of poly-tunnels is allowed under existing PD rights, such as Class A of Part 6 of Schedule  2 to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015. However the LPA   is responsible for deciding whether any type of planning permission is required for a particular development.

The new guidance states that when an LPA has to consider planning applications or prior approval applications for poly-tunnels it is important that: “appropriate weight is given to the agricultural and economic need for the development. Circumstances where poly-tunnels can play an important role include to provide protection for plants or young livestock, to secure improved quality produce and to extend the growing season to provide greater opportunity for home grown produce.”

Clearly one of the key factors influencing the granting of consent  for  poly-tunnels  is  the  requirement  to show the “need” for the tunnel. Careful thought and preparation should therefore be given as to how this is presented to the LPA.

On-farm reservoirs

Full planning permission is not a usual requirement for smaller, on-farm reservoirs, where the excavated waste remains on the farm. These may be developed under existing agricultural PD rights, such as Class A of Part 6 of Schedule 2 to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015, which sets out the thresholds for excavation and mineral working where reasonably necessary for agricultural purposes. Prior approval will, however, be required from the LPA.

 In considering either a prior approval application or a    full planning application for the development of on-farm reservoirs, the guidance requires planning authorities to: “have regard to the increasing need for sustainability, importantly including the careful management of water, the benefits water storage adds in the sustainability of the farming activity and the contribution that it can also make to flood alleviation.”

The  guidance  requires  mineral  planning  authorities to “consider any applications for mineral extraction, which are submitted in order to dispose of excavated waste from reservoirs, in the wider context of the reasons for the development, such as to improve a farm’s  sustainability and to protect water sources.

Therefore mineral planning authorities should not refuse applications for mineral extraction, which have been submitted as a by-product of the need to develop an on- farm reservoir, solely on the basis that this would exceed their local minerals’ supply.”

The guidance advises applicants to provide a clear explanation of why the extracted material cannot remain on the farm, so that can be considered by the mineral planning authority.

There are often environmental benefits to the creation of on-farm reservoirs and if the planning decision is in the balance, then these could also be stressed to both the LPA and the mineral planning authority.

For more information please contact Sarah Phillips, Associate, on sarah.phillips@michelmores.com.