Rural land owners are being urged to act now to take full advantage of the latest changes to Rural Planning policy. Hosting a ‘New Planning Opportunities' seminar in Hertfordshire last week, the business along with guest speaker Steve Quartermain (the Government's chief rural planning officer), Longmores (Solicitors), Weldon Beesly (Chartered Surveyors), Hardcastle-Burton (Tax Advisors) and Handelsbanken addressed an audience of more than 100 landowners. The purpose of the session was to highlight the Government's agenda, to simplify planning legislation in a bid to boost Britain's economic recovery through positive planning in favour of sustainable development and to clarify the recent change to permitted development rights - to create residential opportunities from redundant agricultural buildings.For a long time Rural Solutions has lobbied the Government for the simplification and relaxation of procedures governing the change of use of agricultural buildings to residential use and welcomes the change in policy due to come into effect from the 6th April 2014.The Government's chief planner Steve Quartermain, during his speech spoke of the importance of the role of the Local Authority:-"One of the motivations for new legislation is about stimulating economic growth and re-encouraging the rural economy as a whole. We want to deliver democratic and local control and we expect Local Authorities to be positive."Steve Quartermain, also clarified there are still checks and balances to be made: "We believe the planning system needs to be quick and effective however there are still conditions to comply with - the new permitted development rights do not give land owners carte blanche."Duncan Hartley, director of planning at Rural Solutions comments: "Thee is a three year fixed window of opportunity for rural landowners to develop agricultural buildings. There are no current plans beyond the three years and therefore we advise landowners to seize this opportunity now. There is the chance to develop up to 450 sqm, a very sizeable area, of agricultural buildings on a farm to provide a maximum of three houses on that holding."The Planning team at Rural Solutions has created a detailed Q&A to clarify the recent changes to permitted development rights:-New Residential Opportunities for Redundant Agricultural Buildings Q&AQ. When do the changes come into effect?6th April 2014.Q. What do the changes allow me to do with my agricultural buildings?A. The new permitted development changes will allow the change of use of an agricultural building to a dwelling house. It allows for changes to floor space of up to 450 square metres per agricultural holding, to up to 3 dwellings.Q. Do the changes apply to any agricultural buildings?A. The changes apply to existing agricultural buildings in a sole agricultural use, in connection with a trade or business, as of 20th March 2013, or if the site is not in use on that date, when it was last in use. For any new agricultural buildings built or brought into an agricultural use after this date, the building must be in an agricultural use for at least 10 years before these permitted changes can be applied.Q. Do the changes apply everywhere?A. The changes apply in England only and will not apply in designated areas including National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Conservation Areas. They also do not apply if the land forms part of an Area of Special Scientific Interest (SSSi), a safety hazard area or a military explosives area.Q. Do the changes apply to Listed Buildings?A. No, the changes do not apply to Listed Buildings, or if the site contains a Scheduled Monument.Q. Can I make physical alterations to convert the building to a residential use?A. The new permitted development rights also allow for physical changes necessary to convert the building to a dwelling house. These are qualified as the installation or replacement of(i) windows, doors, roofs or exterior walls, or(ii) water, drainage, electricity, gas or other services,including any partial demolition needed to carry out the above works.You would not be able to extend the building outside of the footprint of the external dimensions of the existing building, however the above provision for partial demolition and rebuilding of walls and roofs would suggest it will be possible to rebuild less structurally sound or unattractive newer additions to buildings.Q. What about changes within the curtilage of the building?A. Whilst you will be able to use the curtilage of the building as garden land, the new houses created under these provisions will not benefit from normal residential permitted development rights, for example to extend a property or erect outbuildings such as garages or sheds within those curtilages. Such development will require planning permission.Q. Do I need to notify the Council before I can enact the changes?A. Yes. There is a prior notification procedure where you must apply to the Council to give them the opportunity to approve of refuse matters relating to- Transport and highways impacts - Noise impacts- Contamination risks at the site - Flooding risks on the site- Whether the location or siting of the building is practical and desirable for a dwelling- Design and external appearanceQ. How do I submit a proposal for prior approval? How long does the prior approval process take?A. You must submit a prior approval application to the Council; application forms will be made available and should be accompanied by a written description of the proposed development, a plan of the site and your contact address and/or email. The Council is also allowed to ask for further information that it considers necessary, including an assessment of the impacts or risks that may arise from the proposed development and a statement setting out how these impacts or risks are to be mitigated, and details of any physical works you are planning to carry out to enable the development.The Council have 56 days from the submission of a valid application to issue a decision; if a decision is not issued within this time then development can begin. If the Council refuse your prior notification application you will have a right of appeal.Q. Can I erect further agricultural buildings in the future if I convert my barns now?A. Once you carry out permitted development to convert your disused agricultural buildings to dwelling houses, you will not be able to erect any new agricultural storage buildings under permitted development rights for a period of 10 years.Similarly, if you have erected any new agricultural storage buildings under permitted development rights since 20th March 2013 or if you do so in the future, you will not then be able to take advantage of the rights to convert agricultural buildings to residential uses for a period of 10 years.Q. What if my site is occupied by an agricultural tenant?A. If you want to convert an agricultural building which is currently, or has in the last year, been part of an agricultural tenancy then you must have the express consent of both the landlord and the tenant that the site is no longer required for agricultural purposes.Q. What else could I do with my redundant agricultural buildings?A. The new provisions also allow for the conversion of agricultural buildings up to 500 square metres to a state-funded school or registered nursery, subject to conditions. Similarly, provisions introduced last year allow agricultural buildings of up to 150 square metres to change into a range of commercial uses including shops, restaurants and cafes, offices, storage and distribution, hotels or assembly and leisure uses, again subject to conditions.