Is there support for sustainable rural development?
Planning and development changes are a constant hot topic in the residential and commercial sector, and indeed for urban areas. However, often it is overlooked, not the benefit it seems, or remains shrouded in mystery and confusion when it comes to the agricultural sector and rural areas.
Here, Richard Shield, Director of Residential and Commercial Development at H&H Land & Estates, talks about the challenges facing rural businesses when it comes to diversification through development:
“It is well documented that we have not been building enough homes in the UK for decades and whilst many of the local authorities across our region understandably focus on urban centres, there are others faced with the challenges of supporting local services in largely rural areas.
“It is incumbent on all councils to support the rural economy; and never more so than now in the face of the seemingly endless and unprecedented uncertainty over the core fabric of the rural areas.
“For as long as I can remember, farmers and landowners have been advised to diversify. In the context of planning and development, there have been some planning policy initiatives that have offered such opportunity; vacant building credits which can be applied to reduce planning obligations (specifically affordable housing); the written ministerial statement exempting small residential schemes from the requirement to deliver affordable housing; and class Q permitted development rights. However, none of those three examples have really assisted landowners and farmers.
“The first of these, vacant building credits, applies on brownfield land and whilst the definition in the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is open to interpretation, whether farm steadings are brownfield land has been tested at appeal and lost.
“In 2014, the then housing minister Brandon Lewis set out revisions to the Government’s position on the affordable housing exemption on smaller sites in a Written Ministerial Statement. It stated that due to the disproportionate burden of developer contributions on small scale developers, for sites of 10-units or less, and which have a maximum combined gross floor space of 1,000 square metres, affordable housing and tariff style contributions should not be sought….
“This was challenged through the courts and ultimately upheld becoming formalised in National Planning Policy Guidance (NPPG). However, in 2017 the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) provided clarification to the effect that the NPPG did not necessarily override local policy, thus providing councils the ability not to follow it in some circumstances.
“Then Class Q Permitted Development Rights - much has been written about Class Q, introduced in the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015, providing an opportunity to secure conversion of existing agricultural buildings to residential use. However, PINS statistics show that traditional applications for full planning permission are more consistently approved by Authorities, and these are unarguably a more expensive and slower route to planning permission.
“Whilst there is understandable frustration felt at the perceived lack of support for those seeking planning permission, (either to raise capital to re-invest in other diversified enterprise, reduce gearing or to hold as part of generating other income) the planning regime requires support for rural business to be held in balance with the need to provide appropriate housing to meet local need.
This begins with the NPPF’s definition of sustainability as being a balance between social, environmental and economic needs, and filters down to local area statutory Development Plan Policy (upon which an application for development must be assessed). The balance between these three strands of sustainability recognises that flexibility of interpretation is necessary to achieve true sustainability across our rural areas, in order to vitally support our economy, communities and our environment appropriately.”
Richard concludes that when considering specific opportunities for development of any scale:
“It is important that full consideration is given to the demonstration of feasibility and viability of the proposals in the context of planning policy to properly assess the risks of the substantial investment in the preparation and submission of a planning application, and where an application is found to be a commercially sound way forward, to ensure robustness of the case is put to the decision makers.”
H&H Land & Estates is one of the leading firms of independent rural property advisors operating across the North of England, Yorkshire and the Scottish Borders and can support on all planning and development matters. Its land agency department advises businesses and the agricultural sector at all levels, with services including farm business advice, estate management, farm sales, landlord and tenant matters, utility work, land management and more recently focussing on planning and development.