Earlier this week, Housing and Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove committed to a package of planning reforms that will help reduce the complexity of the planning system, something that the CLA has long-called for as part of its Rural Powerhouse campaign.
Whilst the speech, which set out the UK Government's long-term plan for housing in England, had a largely urban focus, the package of reforms will benefit the rural economy.
Key points from the Long-Term Plan for Housing
- Relaxation of permitted development rights.
- Introduction of a ‘super-squad’ of planners and other experts to help unblock major development. Initially deployed to Cambridge to assist with expansion plans
- Launch of ‘Planning Skills Delivery Fund’ (£24m) to assist with the clearing of backlogs and to improve skills in the sector.
- Launch of an ‘Office for Place’, a new body to lead design revolution and give local people a say in design of housing
- Consultation on reforming the local plan process.
- Commitment to increasing planning application fees to help support a higher quality and more efficient planning service.
The CLA is reviewing the consultations published this week on amending permitted development rights and reforming the local plan process. We will be taking papers on both of these consultations to our Business and Rural Economy Committee shortly, and will respond to both consultations in September and October respectively. We will also be working with Defra on the call for evidence on nature-based solutions, farm efficiency projects and agricultural diversification.
Planning Skills Delivery Fund
A new ‘Planning Skills Delivery Fund’ of £24m was announced, forming part of a wider ‘Capacity and Capability Programme’ launched by the government. The Planning Skills Delivery Fund will be available over a two-year period to help local planning authorities implement proposed planning reform and also improve development management services by addressing backlogs of planning applications. The fund will also contribute to addressing gaps in planning skills
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Rural Business and Rural Powerhouse report, published in April 2022, recommended that an additional £25m should be provided for an extra planning officer in every local authority in England and Wales.
In the first year (2023/24), local authorities can apply for up to £100,000 to be used to resolve backlog issues and/or towards skills funding.
Consultation on Permitted Development Rights – Agricultural Diversification
Following the speech, a consultation has started on proposed amendments to permitted development rights (PDRs). This consultation proposes amendments to various PDR’s including those relating to the change of use of dwellings, agricultural diversification and development and also the extension of non-domestic buildings.
Evidence from members in 2020 identified that, on average, it takes 8.1 years to secure planning permission. The suggested amendment of the existing PDRs for both rural housing and farm diversification will contribute to easing both this issue and the hurdles that many of our members are facing within the planning system.
In addition to proposals in relation to PDR’s, the consultation is also an opportunity for a call for evidence for Defra in relation to farm efficiency and diversification projects and nature-based solutions.
The proposed amendments to Class Q and R PDRs will increase flexibility for change of use of not only agricultural buildings but potentially other buildings of a rural nature and are a positive step in easing planning barriers for farmers and landowners seeking to diversify and expand their enterprises.
As part of the Rural Powerhouse campaign, the CLA recommended that the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) needed a policy to accept new housing in designated landscapes and promote the conversion of roadside barns to residential use. However, the government report proposes a different approach and is seeking the inclusion of PDRs in Article 2(3) land for flexible commercial uses and up to 10 dwellings.
At present, change of use under Class Q PDR is not permitted in Article 2(3) land (AONBs, Areas designated under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, National Parks, the Broads and World Heritage Sites). The consultation is seeking responses on whether Class Q should apply in Article 2(3) land (excluding World Heritage Sites). Communities that are designated as Protected Landscapes are in need of new homes to ensure they continue grow. Enabling the conversion of existing buildings that are underused and/or redundant would be a vital step forward for both the rural economy and the local communities in these areas.
Additionally, further restrictions on Class Q opportunities could be revised as the consultation is seeking responses on allowing rear extensions, simplifying the floorspace restriction with a single maximum floorspace limit and increasing the maximum number of homes from 5 to 10. This would ease pressure for new development on greenfield land in the countryside and provide much needed homes that are appropriate not only for local people but also rural workers. A maximum floorspace of 1,000sqm for Class Q conversions was put to MPs in 2022 by the CLA, and we are pleased to see that this is the maximum figure put forward within the current consultation.
The proposed amendments to Class R PDR will create more opportunities for diversification to a variety of commercial uses on a larger area than currently and also on agricultural land in addition to just agricultural buildings. At a time when many landowners and farmers are considering next steps and alternative income streams due to the ending of the Basic Payment Scheme, these proposals come at an opportune time to support the rural economy. The consultation builds on the ‘farm to fork’ summit held by the prime minister in May this year and looks to support the local production and processing of food for sale locally. This will not only enable rural businesses to operate in a more sustainable way but will also contribute to local rural economies and support more jobs and spending within local areas.
There are many other buildings found on agricultural units that do not benefit from PDRs for change of use to dwellings or commercial use as the existing rights relate to agricultural buildings only. The consultation is seeking responses on opening up PDRs to allow these rural buildings (such as equestrian and forestry buildings) to also enable diversification to flexible commercials uses or new homes.
Consultation on Permitted Development Rights – Agricultural Development
In addition to proposals to amend PDRs to enable agricultural diversification, the consultation also proposes amendments to existing rights for agricultural development such as new agricultural buildings. These amendments have been proposed to give farmers greater flexibility with the existing size limits of new buildings and extensions that are set to increase. Currently, PDRs allow for up to 1000sqm of ground area to be covered by a building or extension (for agricultural units of 5ha or more). The consultation proposes to increase the maximum area to 1,500sqm.
Many existing agricultural buildings are unfit for modern agricultural practices. Enabling a larger building through PDRs will allow farmers an alternative route to obtaining planning for the upgrading and replacement of inappropriate buildings and reduce the obstacles experienced when developing their agricultural unit to bring them in line with modern day agricultural use.
Call for evidence on nature-based solutions, farm efficiency projects and diversification
The government committed earlier this year at the Farm to Fork Summit to providing greater certainty and flexibility for farmers and the rural economy within planning. As part of the call for evidence forming part of the consultation on PDRs, Defra is interested in understanding planning and any other issues associated with nature based solutions, farm efficiency projects and the diversification of farm incomes beyond that covered by PDRs.
Consultation on plan-making
In addition to the launch of the consultation on PDRs, a consultation on plan-making has started, running until 18 October. This consultation seeks views on proposals to implement the parts of the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill that relate specifically to plan-making. Some of the proposals within this consultation are:
- Timeframe of 30 months to prepare, examine and adopt new local plans
- A single local plan for a district rather than multiple documents
- New assessments through the plan-making process
- Piloting of ‘Community Land Auctions’ to identify land for development that benefits local communities.
- Introduction of ‘Supplementary Plans’ to enable local authorities to react to change in their areas quickly.