A rural planning firm based in Harborough has welcomed new planning rules which will allow disused farm buildings to be converted more easily.
New legislation due to come into force this spring will allow land owners to change the use of buildings from commercial use to residential use, and from agricultural use to commercial use more easily.
Fisher German, in High Street, Harborough, believes the Government announcement will provide farmers with an opportunity to make the most of their assets during a difficult period for agriculture, allowing them to convert old barns and buildings for use as offices or retail and leisure outlets.
The new regulations will only cover the change in the use of buildings while any external alterations or development such as a new access from the highway will still require the benefit of planning permission.
Gemma Field, planner at Fisher German, said: “The forthcoming changes to development rights for agricultural buildings are really good news for the sector.
“A lot of farmers are struggling to make ends meet in the current climate and this will provide them with another valuable opportunity to maximise their assets and increase income.
“Up until now changing the use of buildings has been a lengthy time-consuming, complicated and expensive process.
“The new system will represent a time and cost saving for applicants, with a prior approval application costing £80 with a decision period of 28 days, as opposed to a planning application which would cost £385 and have a decision period of eight weeks.
“The new rules will significantly reduce the number of hoops which farmers need to jump through and I’m sure it’s an avenue many will be exploring.”
Building conversions over a certain size, yet to be confirmed, will still need to be accompanied by a stringent prior-approval process.
This will cover issues such as transport and highways, development in areas of flood risk, land contamination and safety hazard zones.
While the new proposals do not allow conversion from agricultural use straight to residential use, Fisher German says there could be scope for this by converting a building to office use, and then into residential use at a later date.
The new rights will initially be for a limited period of three years.
This will be reviewed towards the end of that period but could be made permanent.