The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has confirmed plans to consult on allowing greater flexibility for changes of use of existing agricultural buildings for other business purposes, for example offices, leisure and retail space.
The move is part of Defra’s response to proposals from the independent Farm Regulation Task Force to cut the red tape faced by farmers.
However, the Government has decided not to accept recommendations to relax planning controls for some farm development including some buildings, polytunnels and winter-fill reservoirs.
The Task Force had recommended a return to the development regulations in place pre-1995 where any agricultural buildings under 465 square metres on an agricultural unit of five hectares or more is permitted development without prior notification.
The group also proposed that agricultural buildings between of 465?1,500 square metres surface area, on agricultural units of a minimum size of five hectares, should be subject to the prior notification procedure rather than full planning control.
In addition the Task Force recommended that the construction of on-farm winter-fill reservoirs up to 25,000 cubic metres should be permitted under the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO) and that water infrastructure for agriculture and horticulture should be recognised as strategic within the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and by local planning authorities (LPAs).
On the issue of on-farm reservoirs the department supported the principle of the Task Force’s recommendation but said there was no evidence ‘to support a lowering of the current threshold for the regulation of high risk reservoirs from 25,000 to 10,000 cubic meters and therefore we will not enact that provision in the Flood and Water Management Act 2010’.
Defra has promised to provide further guidance for farmers on how to build low-risk reservoirs.
In addition the Task Force had recommended that Part 6 of the GPDO be amended to create a category that would include polytunnels.
Defra has decided not to accept that proposal at this stage. It said it recognised that at a local level the potential effects of polytunnels on landscape could be controversial, ‘and there is a need to strike a sensible balance’.
Ministers have asked the Farming Regulation Task Force Implementation Group to review the way that the farming industry can work with the planning system ‘to optimise opportunities for sustainable food production, to enhance the sector’s competitiveness’.
This will include gathering more evidence to inform a wider discussion with stakeholder organisations including LPAs.
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