THERE has been a lot of talk recently regarding the government’s recent proposals to radically reform the planning system in England to remove bureaucracy, provide greater certainty for developers, and generally to speed up the whole process, writes Ian Barnard, director, head of company commercial, at Crombie Wilkinson Solicitors.

The suggestion, which is to be discussed and consulted upon with various different bodies, is to shift the process away from paper-based applications and to encourage “Local Plans” to take precedence, and to focus on design and sustainability.

The proposals suggest that there will be three different categories of land; growth, renewal and protected areas. If the application is in a growth area, the permission would be given automatically provided that certain criteria were met, and if councils delayed too long in their decision-making process, then permission could be granted automatically.

While the proposals are still only at a White Paper stage, meaning that any changes are likely to be some time away, it is worth noting that some similar changes have already been made to the planning system, particular in relation to permitted development and more specifically, in relation to agricultural buildings. Given that changes may be some way off, it is helpful to have a reminder of what can be done currently.

Permitted development rights allow property owners to carry out certain permitted works to their properties without seeking express planning permission from the local authority. Significant amendments to the rules under permitted development came into force early 2014 with some minor amendments being introduced in 2018, to leave us with the current position.

The rules allow the owners of existing agricultural buildings to convert them to dwellings (under class C3) without having to seek planning permission under the General Permitted Development Order 2015 (GPDO 2015). This also includes the development of any land within the curtilage. Class C3 is the use of the dwelling as a single household for up to six people.

However, this doesn’t mean that all agricultural buildings can automatically be developed as there are of course exceptions which could mean planning permission is still required.

The site must have been used solely for agricultural purposes and the site in question must have been in use on or before March 20, 2013 for agricultural purposes. Should the landowner decide to use their permitted development rights to convert an existing barn then they cannot build a new barn without planning permission for a period of at least 10 years.

If up to one year prior to the commencement of development the site was subject to an agricultural tenancy which was terminated with a view to development then planning permission will be required.

If, however, the landlord and tenant mutually decided to bring the tenancy to an end as it was no longer required development under the order would be permitted.

The 2018 amendments primarily related to the floor space of the building (per square metre) and provided additional guidance. The total floor space cannot be over 465m2. If this is the case the landowner has the option to convert the area into up to five small dwellings (less than 100m2 per dwelling). Should the landowner want to construct larger dwellings (more than 100m2 but less than 465m2 combined) up to three are permitted.

Some conversion works may require minor rebuild works. As long as the floor space for the dwelling does not exceed that of the original building at any given time then the order still applies.

In addition to the updated rules any landowner is required to seek prior approval from the local authority prior to commencing development. Until the local authority has looked at the proposals no works should be undertaken. The local authority is deemed to have consented to the works if no approval is issued within eight weeks of the notice being given.

Unfortunately, the prior approval requirement does give the local authority the opportunity to prevent the development on the basis of transport, noise impact, flood risk and overall appearance of the site. These can be quite subjective points, so it is probably wise to consider these matters before any application for prior approval is made, so that a case can be put to the local authority, to show that these matters have already been considered.

If you have qualifying buildings and if this type of development is something which you are interested in it is always best to seek professional advice beforehand to ensure your compliance with the guidelines.

Not only might there be planning implications, but any conversion leading to increased use will also have legal implications including rights to be granted, rights to be reserved and any covenants that may need to be imposed to run in conjunction with planning matters.

For more information, phone 01653 600070 or 01751 472121.