Comment: Change is good for rural economies

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From tomorrow the vast majority of farmers and landowners in Yorkshire will be able to take advantage of new permitted development rights to allow the change of use of farm buildings to residential use without going through full planning.

CLA members have long complained about the complexity and cost of the planning system when applied to small-scale rural economic development proposals and we have lobbied long and hard to change the rules for years.

These new development rights allow existing agricultural buildings to be converted into a maximum of three new houses, paving the way for many more people to be able to live and work in rural Yorkshire.

Unfortunately, in an about-turn from the consultation proposals, the Government has decided that these proposals won’t apply in National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, or Conservation Areas, which is disappointing. The new rights will also not apply to listed buildings or to buildings on sites which include a scheduled monument.

For farmers and landowners thinking about taking advantage of the new rights, there are conditions and limitations to consider. The site must have been in sole agricultural use and part of an established farm on March 20, 2013 and use of these new rights is not allowed if development has already taken place on the site since then. The cumulative floor space of existing buildings or buildings changing use cannot exceed 450 sq m. Protection is included for tenant farmers, by ensuring that the express consent of both the landlord and tenant is required before a change of use takes place.

In all cases, before any conversion or building works begin, the planning authority’s prior approval is required for highways, transport and noise impacts, risks of contamination and flooding, location and siting of the building, and design and external appearance to ensure the change of use and associated works don’t create unacceptable impacts.

Despite the caveats, these new rights are a huge step forward for the rural economy as the Government has now enshrined in regulations the principle that the conversion of a farm building to a dwelling is acceptable. This has a major public benefit. It will help to address the delivery of new homes in rural areas, even outside existing settlements.

It will mean that farm buildings which may be redundant for modern agricultural purposes will have a new economic use through conversion and re-use; retaining the building for future generations.

It allows for easier farm succession planning, but also encourages new employment and the ability for people to be able to live and work in rural areas. Finally, there are environmental benefits as greater farm income will assist with the delivery of an enhanced natural environment.

Sadly, the exemption of designated areas from these regulations means that established agricultural units could be denied the ability to deliver new homes in areas of the countryside, such as the Dales and North York Moors National Parks, which critically need them. However, farmers and landowners in these parts of the region can rest assured the CLA will continue to represent their interests by working with relevant local authorities to encourage sustainable development while protecting our county’s cherished natural beauty and landscapes.

Dorothy Fairburn is regional director for the North at the Country Land & Business Association.