Permitted development rights: change of use of agricultural buildings to residential

Permitted development rights allowing the change of use of agricultural buildings to residential have been expanded to allow up to five homes. Here is an overview for those in the agriculture sector.

02 July 2018

What are the rights?

Since 6 April 2018, agricultural buildings in England can be changed to residential use for up to five homes under permitted development rights. Previously, only three homes were permitted. The rights include the building works reasonably necessary to convert the building(s).

Permitted development rights (PD rights) enable certain building works and changes of use to be carried out without needing to obtain planning permission from the local planning authority.

The government announced these changes as part of the ‘reform programme to build the homes Britain needs’ explaining they were so ‘rural communities have more flexibility on how best to use existing buildings to deliver more much needed homes for families.’ They follow the consultation in spring 2016.

What are the restrictions on these rights?

 While the overall aim of providing these PD rights is flexibility, there are a number of restrictions that developers will need to check before relying on them. The PD rights cannot, for example, be used in National Parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty, conservation areas, the Broads, world heritage sites or sites of special scientific interest. Nor can they be used if the building is a listed building or if the site is or contains a scheduled ancient monument.

If the PD rights can apply to the site, there are several other restraints that developers will need to consider, including the following:

  • The building has to have been used solely for agricultural use as part of an established agricultural unit for a certain period of time before the use is changed to residential.
  • The rights distinguish between ‘larger homes’ (floor space of between 100 and 465 square metres) and 'smaller homes’ (floor space of 100 square metres or less).
  • Of the five homes permitted, three may be larger homes.
  • Where the conversion is to a larger home or homes, the floor space of existing building or buildings cannot be more than 465 square metres;
  • Any previous development under these PD rights to convert agricultural buildings to residential use and also the use of other agricultural PD rights within the planning unit.
  • If an agricultural tenancy is in place, express consent for the conversion from both the landlord and tenant must be obtained (you cannot terminate an agricultural tenancy for the purposes of carrying out the residential development, unless there is a written agreement that the site is no longer required for agricultural use or at least 1 year has elapsed since the termination of the tenancy).
  • The external dimensions of the new development cannot extend beyond the external dimensions of the existing agricultural building.

Developers will also need to bear in mind that the building works associated with the development must be reasonably necessary. The works permitted are specified as: partial demolition; installing or replacing windows, doors, roofs, exterior walls, water, drainage, electricity, gas or other services.

Do I need to tell the local authority?

These PD rights do require developers to apply to the local planning authority to find out whether prior approval is needed before the change of use or building works start. Prior approval may be needed if there are transport and highways or noise concerns, contamination or flooding risks on site. Prior approval of whether the location of the building makes it otherwise impractical or undesirable for the building to change uses may be needed, as may prior approval of the design or external appearance of the building.

Any prior approval from the local planning authority must be provided in writing. The approval may contain conditions that need to be followed and the development must be completed within three years of the date of the prior approval. If prior approval is not needed, the developer must wait for a written notice that it is not, before starting development. However, if after a 56 day period, no notice has been given, the developer may start works. Developers seeking to rely on this deemed approval will need to be certain that the application for prior approval was made correctly and the requisite time period has elapsed.

What are the other recent changes to agricultural permitted development rights?

The PD rights to change the use of buildings used for storage and distribution to residential use were due to be withdrawn on 15 April 2018 but have now been extended until 10 June 2019. These rights are similarly restricted in use as those described above for the change of use of agricultural buildings.

In addition, the size limit of new agricultural buildings permitted on larger farms has been increased from 465 square metres to 1,000 square metres. The government says this will help farmers adopt the latest innovations in modern farming practices and follows lobbying by the National Farmers’ Union..

National planning policy

These changes to PD rights are part of a wider picture for development. The government is revising the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) (due to be published later this Summer) and the policy changes proposed are predominantly intended to speed up the delivery of housing development in England.

How can Burges Salmon help?

For more information on this topic, please contact Elizabeth Dunn or Cathryn Tracey.

Key contact

Elizabeth Dunn

Elizabeth Dunn Partner

  • Energy, Power and Utilities
  • Infrastructure
  • Real Estate

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