Gaining a housing planning consent on farmland

Just like any business, the fortunes of farming concerns ebb and flow over time. Often, the need can arise for some farming assets, particularly land, to be sold off for other uses.

For example, selling off a parcel of farmland to be developed as housing can provide farming businesses and landowners with investment funds or short-term income (or both).

But rarely is the process so simple and many questions need to be answered to find out if housing is a viable option. For example, how do you know if the land is suitable for housing? Is there genuine demand for new housing in the area? Is the land in an area that’s even designated for housing?

At some point you are going to require some sound professional advice. In the meantime, here’s some guidance for farmers and landowners looking to develop housing on their land.

1. Find out if your land forms part of a local plan

Local authorities are required by central government to have a local plan in place which sets planning policy in that local authority area, including where new housing development is permitted. As part of these plans they are also required to be able to demonstrate a deliverable five-year housing land supply. If your land is part of this local plan and in the five year housing land supply area, then you stand a far greater chance of ultimately gaining a planning consent. Even if it is not, it may still be possible to gain a planning consent on appeal if your local authority is unable to demonstrate a current five-year housing land supply. Your local authority may actively be looking at new housing development sites as pressure grows on all authorities to boost supply.

2. Establish the potential barriers to development

There are many other factors that could limit your ability to sell your land for housing. For example, it might be part of the green belt, located on a flood plain, or the land might have contamination issues. However, these aren’t necessarily always a barrier to development. Take green belt for instance. There is a common misconception about what constitutes green belt land with a tendency to view all open countryside as green belt. In reality, only a small proportion of the total land in England is designated as green belt. Even where your land is in the green belt, if your local authority cannot demonstrate that it has enough land to meet housing targets for the next five years, it may still be possible to gain planning consent for housing. Your architect or planning consultant will be able to help you determine if housing is a viable option for your land.

3. Consider an option agreement

Many farmers and landowners looking to develop housing will enter into an option agreement with a developer or other property professional. An option agreement is where the developer, investor or other interested party, agrees to buy the land from the landowner at some date in the future, usually when a planning consent is gained. There are clear benefits to landowners in this approach as it removes the risk of them having to fund the planning process themselves.

4. Engage with the local community

Local communities are naturally sceptical of development in their area. Will this development lead to traffic problems? Will it be a blot on the landscape? Who’s going to the live there? Will it spoil my views? These are all questions that are likely to be asked by the neighbours and if nobody can satisfy these suspicions with proper answers, opposition to a scheme is far more likely. Development on farmland or fields involves far more emotion than development in urban areas. It’s why we always advocate engagement with the local community and a public consultation for schemes that might be viewed as contentious. This is a great opportunity to get the public on your side early in the process by being open and transparent, and making a successful planning consent much more likely. Again, a built environment professional, such as an architect or planning consultant will be able to advise you on such matters.

5. Take professional advice to protect your interests

Trying to gain planning consent for housing on land that you own can be a daunting and protracted experience, especially if you have no previous experience of doing so. If you own land that’s suitable for housing there will be no shortage of developers and other companies willing to assist you. Many will offer planning consultancy on no-win, no-fee service, but how do you know the people assisting you are credible and trustworthy? It’s important to look for a planning and development partner with a good track record in getting housing schemes through the planning process and with the contacts to ultimately develop it out. Speak to your professional advisers, such as your accountant or lawyer, as they are likely to have the right contacts to refer you to.

Richard Parker is a director of Harrison Pitt Architects. Richard has many years of experience in assisting farmers and other landowners with planning applications for housing developments. If you have a question for Richard call 01524 32479 or e-mail Richard.

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