Boris says ‘Build, build, build’ but will it help farmers?

The plan includes provisions to free up commercial and former farm buildings for housing
The plan includes provisions to free up commercial and former farm buildings for housing

The government is going to overhaul the country’s outdated planning system, according to an announcement from the Robert Jenrick, the Housing Secretary.

While the reforms are targeted almost exclusively towards housing for people, rather than new agricultural housing, it does include provisions to free up commercial and former farm buildings for housing as well.

The White Paper on planned changes aims to transform a system that has long been criticised for being too sluggish in providing housing for rural families, key workers and young people.

The reforms allow for more building on brownfield land, which would include a group redundant farm buildings in the correct zone.

Three categories of land

The paper sets out a new zoning system with 3 categories of land:

1. Growth: Land suitable for growth will be approved for development while plans are being prepared, meaning new homes, schools, shops and business space can be built quickly and efficiently, as long as local design standards are met.

2. Renewal: these areas will enable much quicker development where it is well-designed in a way which reflects community preferences.

3. Protected: Development on Green Belt land will continue to be restricted as it is now with policy remaining a decision for local authorities as they prepare their plans.

The reforms are overdue because fewer new dwellings are built in Britain than any other European country. Small building firms cite the planning process and its associated risks, delays and costs are their main challenges.

The government aims to reduce red tape and costs for builders by extending the Permission in Principle to major developments by giving more access to a fast track route to secure the principle of development for housing.

This would mean that planning permissions would be agreed in principle in Growth zones without a full planning application, unless the local planning authority objects.

The use of this principle with Permitted Developments to convert redundant farm buildings into dwellings has been widely used on farms over the last five years.

The paper also wants to help local planning authorities to better understand who controls land in their area and to assist builders identity land suitable for development.

This could possibly mean more planning authorities and developers approaching farmers and producers inviting them to sell land for development.

Rural Powerhouse campaign

The White paper follows a Rural Powerhouse campaign from the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) which aims to boost productivity to rural areas.

The CLA says that a restrictive and inefficient planning system is harming the potential of the economy in rural areas.

It leads to wasted expenditure and unrealistic demands; out-dated perceptions of the economy in rural areas; and decision-making that seems to fly in the face of rural interests.

CLA President Mark Bridgeman said: “We have a fantastic opportunity to simplify the planning system and unlock a new wave of investment in the countryside.

“Planning reform can be an important ingredient to boost economic development in rural areas and help the recovery.

"Rural office locations may become more attractive in the light of the coronavirus experience; if that is the case, the planning system needs to be able to respond quickly to emerging demand.

“In the short term, local planning authorities may want to free up vacant office and commercial space for new uses (such as for residential, affordable and sheltered housing). Again, this requires a flexible and fast-planning process.

“Unfortunately, the archaic laws that determine what and where we can build have held back economic development in rural areas. Now is the time for change.”

He pointed out that major economic and technological trends have provided new incentives to invest in rural areas, at the same time more people are seeking a better life in the countryside - something which Covid-19 has only increased.

This could not only increase the population of rural areas, but also bring with it a wealth of experience and expertise, human and social capital.

Farmers are seeking to capitalise on this growing trend, but they must have a planning system to be able to do so.

What recommendations does the paper make?

The paper makes recommendations to adapt the planning system to respond to the current and future needs and opportunities of the rural economy. These include:

• Encouraging greater use of the Permission in Principle application process in rural areas, including those that require rural development grant aid applications;

• Allowing permitted development rights for new-build affordable housing for rent on rural exception sites;

• Reducing the ten-year restriction to five years for all permitted developments rights;

• Removing the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) for all new farm buildings

• Requiring local authorities to factor current and emerging technological development into their assessments.

• Funding planning authorities to conduct Housing Needs Assessments in any community not allocated housing in the local development plan;

• Amending the National Planning Policy Framework so that it accepts the need for new housing in designated landscapes and promotes the conversion of roadside barns to residential use;

• Resourcing the planning system so that it is fit for purpose by either simplifying the system so it can be delivered within existing constraints, or increasing resources so the system works as intended; and

• Undertaking a comprehensive review of Green Belt planning policy so that it delivers certainty for farmers.

The government is encouraging feedback from farmers and others through its consultation on the proposed measures by 29 October.