Every industry faces a different set of challenges and the farming industry is no exception, its particular challenges can be fluid and varied, with changes in the economic environment having an impact. Ultimately, farms have to be run as efficiently as any other business, and key to that success is being able to weather any storm. Taking regular legal advice can be a valuable way to identify how a farm can diversify away from its core farming activities and into other areas, including possibly making effective use of redundant farm buildings to create a new revenue stream.

As a general rule, development of agricultural buildings is not permitted without planning permission. However, a ‘change of use’ development of an agricultural building is possible as long as it is in accordance with the Town & Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 (“the Order”). The Order allows a change of use to a number of different uses which are, themselves, specified in the Town & Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987, without the need to obtain planning permission. This is “deemed consent” under the terms of the Order.

Part R of the Order, for example, gives deemed consent for a change of use in a number of commercial use scenarios (defined in the TCPA (Use Classess) Order 1987) which include:

  • A1 retail, A2 financial and professional services, A3 restaurants and cafes
  • B1 business, B8 storage
  • C1 hotels
  • D2 assembly and leisure

These give a wide range of potential uses for redundant agricultural buildings without going through a formal planning permission process. Inevitably, exceptions and conditions do apply, and it is therefore imperative for farmers to discuss these with a law firm that has specialist knowledge of rural affairs.

Once a decision has been made, farmers might choose to carry out the necessary works to their buildings before going ahead with the agreement of a formal lease. Alternatively, the redundant building can be converted and made ready to sell, although this might not directly help to create additional income for the farm. We, at Ellisons Solicitors, would always advise clients to take tax advice before making any decision on a diversification project.

Whether farmers decide to convert buildings for sales or lettings, it’s important to work closely with their legal adviser from an early stage so that they can work together with land agents, accountants and other relevant advisers. For many farmers, the most important thing to ensure is that any changes, upgrades or other diversification on a farm do not compromise the core farming business, but rather enhance it.