It’s all in the Planning when it comes to Agricultural Worker’s Dwellings

1st January 2017

In recent times, H&H Land and Property have recognised subtle changes in planning policy with regard to the need to provide homes on farming enterprises.  Many years ago, as long as the applicant was a farmer then the prospects of gaining planning permission for a house or a retirement bungalow were very good.

As the demand for rural housing grew, and environmental pressure increased, there was an increasing recognition that the system was open to abuse, resulting in more formal methods of establishing agricultural need being introduced.

Neil Henderson, Senior Planner for H&H Planning Services explains: “This culminated in Planning Policy Statement 7 (PPS7), which set out in detail how need should be assessed.  Amongst other things it clarified that it was the needs of the business, which decided whether a house was required, and not the needs of the occupant.  Houses which were required solely to provide for the retirement of a farmer were ruled out.

“PPS7 set out five tests to be met if an application were to be successful,” said Neil. “There should be a functional need; the need should relate to a full time worker; the farm business should be established and profitable; there should be no alternative accommodation available; and other planning requirements should be satisfied, for example, the design of the house should reflect its location.

“However, in March 2012 the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was issued, abolishing all the Planning Policy Statements in the process.  The NPPF reiterated long standing planning policy that new isolated homes in the countryside should be avoided, unless there were special circumstances.  The agricultural worker exception was retained, but the guidance on how to establish need was not.”

So what has happened since then?  In the absence of guidance, local planning authorities are continuing to use the principles established by PPS7, as if it was still in place.  At appeal, Planning Inspectors have tended to go along with this practice, in the absence of any guidance to fill the policy vacuum.

The personal needs and preferences of the proposed occupant will hold little sway with the planning authority if this results in a dwelling, which contradicts, or wildly over-provides for, what the business needs.  If, for example, a seven bedroom mansion is provided for a small farm business then the prospects of success are slight.  Some local authorities have a fixed limit on floor space which cannot be exceeded, but this no longer has much national policy support.

For an application for this type of proposal to stand any chance of success, there is still a requirement to prove the need for a dwelling.  This will ideally be in the form of an agricultural assessment, prepared by a suitably qualified person.

Such advice can be provided by the team at H&H Land and Property who have long experience in preparing both agricultural assessments and planning applications for agricultural workers dwellings. Most recently planning permission was obtained from Allerdale Borough Council for a second dwelling on a farm which had a record of previous refusals. The application was complicated by the fact that the original farmhouse was listed so any new development had to respect the historic character and setting of the listed building. It was demonstrated by means of a robust agricultural assessment that there was an overwhelming need for an additional dwelling and as a result of lengthy negotiations with the planning authority a design agreeable both to the client and the planning authority was achieved.