The legalities of farm diversification and protected species
The team at GSC Grays, land and property specialists, advise on carrying out your farm diversification project while protecting wildlife…
How to identify and prepare for the biggest challenges around farm diversification
Making the decision to diversify a farm can bring many benefits - from increased profits, to improving the local economy, and even making farmers feel less isolated according to a 2018 report on diversification from NFU Mutual. But the process isn’t without challenges - primarily navigating often complex planning laws when applying for change of use. For those thinking of diversifying in 2020 or beyond here are the most common planning and legal issues you may face and how to prepare for them.
The need to protect the surrounding ecology
Demonstrating that a development mitigates the impact on its environment is a key planning consideration. For example, if applying for a change of use on a little-used traditional agricultural building, you need to consider that it may be a home for protected species - bats being the most common example of this. Generally, adequate mitigation can be designed into a scheme, but this requires research into what animals are present and ways of accommodating them within any conversion.
Commissioning a Protected Species Survey
By far the biggest challenge when commissioning a Protected Species Survey are the windows during which surveys can take place. Local Planning Authorities will not consider an application unless it is supported by a survey and the surveys are species specific which means missing a window can put a planning application back by months. The impact on diversification projects vary from the straight-forward to a fundamental change. For example, giving over a roof space to bats where you had hoped to put a second floor.
Plan the access during and after farm diversification
Being able to get people to and from any diversification project is clearly essential. Understanding any additional traffic movements, and how these impact on other users of the property might be a material issue. In this instance, consultation and collaboration at an early stage is the best way forward.
Understanding the technical constraints is also key to overcoming these potential issues. Thankfully, there is software available to consultants which can help plot access for emergency vehicles or waste lorries. Similarly, new road junctions will be technically defined and an analysis of this to look at visibility splays and the speed of traffic using the road could be key considerations.
In some instances, the introduction of longer or slower moving vehicles could be problematic, especially if the junction is on a fast road. An example might be where you are considering a caravan site which is prevented by the site access. In this circumstance, you might need to consider an alternative such as yurts which are permanently on site to avoid these slow moving vehicles altogether.
Know what your legal title allows
An often overlooked aspect of the diversification process is what rights and reservations exist within the title of the property. This could be a user clause which might prevent anything other than an agricultural use or a clawback which requires a payment based on any uplift in value needs to be made to the previous owner. This could be triggered by the grant of planning consent for a new use. Even when there are no restrictions on use, there can still be reservations of interests such as minerals or sporting which might need to be addressed.
How to establish what’s legally possible
To understand the details on a title, seek the help of a professional advisor such as a surveyor or solicitor who will be able to provide a clear report on what is allowed and what isn’t. An example of this could be the diversification into holiday accommodation on a farm which has shooting rights reserved. Whilst the conversion of a barn is unlikely to be impacted, the creation of a caravan or camping park could be, given the extent of interference with the reserved rights. Again, a proper assessment of all potential constraints and positive engagement to resolve any issues which are identified will ensure that the best possible scheme is brought forward.
There are many factors at play in making the decision to diversify and what your farm can and should diversify into. However knowledge, as the saying goes, is power, and the ability to quickly identify and address the most common challenges can hasten the diversification process.