Over 60% of farms in the UK have now diversified in some way, with diversification projects now accounting for 22% of income on farms. This is only likely to grow with the prospect of reduced rural payments and the changing position of agriculture within the UK economy. So how do positive planning decisions boost rural business?
The importance of such projects to the farming industry is now increasingly recognised within the planning system. The more recently prepared Local and Neighbourhood Plans take a positive approach to forms of economic development not traditionally found in rural areas. Such support alongside permitted development powers means the range of uses that redundant land and buildings can be put to is myriad.
The most popular diversification projects include tourism, storage, workshops, bespoke food and drink production and sales, and creative industries. All are typically well suited to a rural environment, with farm holdings offering a high quality and authentic environment.
Opposite are some examples of projects that our planning teams have been involved in.
Tourism is a growth area in Britain. More people than ever are opting for a staycation but in many areas, for example the South Downs National Park, there is a shortage of visitor accommodation. Conversions of redundant farm buildings to form accommodation from bunkhouses to hotels or the introduction of camping on fields that are no longer needed are all popular projects which tend to be well received by planning authorities.
One such project is the Manor of Dean, near Petworth, where permission was recently granted for the conversion and partial rebuild of redundant farm buildings to form a self-contained holiday let. The buildings are located close to visitor attractions, wedding venues and footpaths making them ideally located for the proposed use.
Another similar project is Elbourne House in Washington where permission was granted to convert a domestic outbuilding into bed & breakfast accommodation. Adjacent stables and close proximity to the South Downs Way meant this would be a perfect location for walkers and horse riders wanting to explore the countryside.
Commercial uses are the most common farm diversification contributing a significant amount to landowner incomes, as well as being a use that sits comfortably alongside on-going farming activities and generating jobs in rural areas.
Wapsbourne Manor Farm is a former strawberry farm near Lewes which features a number of now-redundant farm buildings. Two such buildings were recently converted into offices and a storage unit as a form of permitted development. The buildings required little investment to enable them to accommodate their new purposes which are now providing a regular source of income for the landowner.
New build opportunity
The residential conversion of farm buildings has been made significantly easier following the extension of permitted development rights which now allow for up to five dwellings to be created within a holding. Called a Class Q consent, such a project can help to raise cash to reinvest in the farming business, or provide a regular rental income to supplement farm income. A Class Q consent was recently granted for the creation of three houses within a former deer handling building on Old Camp Farm near Horsham.
Some planning authorities are willing to ‘trade in’ these permitted development consents for a new build scheme where there would be benefits in doing so, such as securing a better design or quality of accommodation.
Around 150 micro distilleries have been established in the UK since 2015. Farms are popular places for distilleries as an authentic rural location adds to the marketing profile. Winning formulas often include brewery visits and tasting days.
The Gin Kitchen, Dorking is a relatively new venture which has opened premises at Goldenlands Farm in Dorking. Facilities include a distillery, tasting room and shop. The business is going from strength to strength and plans to extend its offering to include an events room. There are many other possibilities for diversification projects. The only limitation is your own imagination!