Rural Planning Update
Housing continues to be a big area of debate not just nationally but for rural areas as well. This comes at a time when despite much Government rhetoric not enough dwellings are being built to meet forecast needs. This shortfall is of the order of 40% and therefore the weaknesses in the system are many and manifold and not solely caused by planning weaknesses or any other single issue.
The Government is undertaking a rural planning review. This review will look into ways of reducing the regulatory burdens in support of new homes and jobs. This initiative was flagged up in the Government’s Rural Productivity Plan of 2015.
Since changes were made to rural planning policies and the general permitted development order in 2014, the Government estimates that 2000 agriculture buildings have been converted to residential use.
The Government wishes to know how the new permitted development rights are being used and also how the planning system assists or hinders the development of farm shops, polytunnels and on-farm reservoirs.
Experience at CMM Rural is that many local planning authorities (LPAs) are over-strict in their interpretation of the new permitted development rights for the conversion of farm buildings to residential use. Almost all farm buildings require some conversion work to meet building regulations standards for residential occupation e.g. lining walls and putting in mezzanine internal floors and some LPAs use this to say that this means that the conversion is not permitted development by strict interpretation of the wording of the regulations regarding new building works. Other, arguably more progressive, LPAs interpret the regulations to cover building works that extend the original building or alter the roof height. There are other issues as well. The rate of success of schemes under the new regulations is well under 50% and this would indicate that something is not well with the system as intended and unveiled by the Government several years ago. Compare this rate with the success of the conversion of offices to residential in urban areas brought in at roughly the same time where the success rate is over 75%.
Experience on farm shops continues to be very patchy and this probably reflects the fact that many LPAs do not have a clear policy stance on the subject. It would be interesting to explore whether there are differences in the performance of LPAs which cover rural areas with other LPAs where the rural part is small compared to the urban areas. Often planners and councillors in local councils apply urban solutions inappropriately to rural areas.
If you have had bad or good experiences with rural planning developments, please let the Government know. There is no harm in involving your local MP and ask them to take up matters with Government ministers.
Locally Set Planning Application Fees?
Finally, the Government is considering allowing certain LPAs in England to set the fee charges for planning applications. Currently in England they are set by the Government and tend to be reviewed every April. Local Councils have been lobbying to be able to set their own fee structures as Councils do north of the border where planning application fees are much higher. The Government is considering giving those Councils which are performing well on planning matters to be able to set their own fee charges and we await the outcome of these deliberations. There is concern from many quarters including the development sector that there would be a sharp rise in fee charges and this could impact on limiting much needed economic development proposals or make development schemes uneconomic.
Again, this is the time to make your views known to the Government on this matter.