Gaining planning consent for an agricultural workers dwelling


Building a new home in the country means satisfying a series of stringent planning conditions. Julie Liddle, a director of Robson & Liddle, looks at how it may be possible under rules on agricultural workers dwellings.

Getting planning consent to construct a new-build home on farmland is a perennial thorn in the side for many farmers.

Unless it’s feasible (or even possible) to go down the Permitted Development route and convert existing farm buildings into dwellings, or extend the existing farmhouse, then applying for permission to create an agricultural workers dwelling may be the only option left on the table.

But this type of development is subject to strict controls. As a result, I come across many farming families who are left with the conundrum of how to house the next generation (and/or employee of the business) on the farm, with applications to construct new agriculturally tied dwellings being refused by local planning authorities, sometimes even when the need can be clearly demonstrated.

What’s the planning guidance on rural workers’ dwellings?

The rules on agricultural workers dwellings are dealt with only briefly in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which in 2012 replaced the many pages of guidance under the old regime.

The NPPF simply says that a dwelling might be allowed in the countryside where it meets “the essential need for a rural worker to live at or near their place of work in the countryside”.

Therefore many councils tend to refer to the previous, more detailed guidance when interpreting an application rather than create a new measure by which to make a decision. The old guidance required applicants to establish various facts about the business before granting permission for a new dwelling.

Hardly a surprise then that the scenario of a retiring farmer and the fate of the original farmhouse is one that has been to appeal many times. Thankfully in a good number of cases, Planning inspectors have concluded that it would be unreasonable to expect an existing farmer to give up their home in order to make way for the next generation.

How do local councils decide?

Local planning authorities decide on a case-by-case basis whether there is an essential need for a rural worker to live permanently at or near a place of work and there are a number of hoops to jump through. The decision-making process using the ‘old’ system of reference involved:

  • Demonstrating a clearly established functional need for a full-time worker to live on site: This is related to animal welfare and having sufficient man-hours to equate to two full time employees of the business (this would be for a second house application)
  • Showing that the agricultural operation has been active for three years, profitable for at least one of them, and is likely to remain financially sound going forward: Profitability does not mean large sums of money. There is no stated figure and remember investment in buildings and infrastructure are also examples. Don’t forget to add wages to any calculation
  • Establishing that there is no other suitable dwelling or accommodation on site or in the area: Not another house on the holding, a building that would covert, or a dwelling in the area with a suitable agricultural tie on occupation
  • Satisfying other planning requirements, for example relating to access, or environmental impact

Tips for demonstrating the need for an agricultural workers dwelling

There are many things to consider, I have only touched on a few as this subject is longer and more complex than time here permits. These applications are reasonably costly if not done correctly. A proper business case needs to be made to accompany the planning application. The design of the house and planning application are not the most important factors at the outset.

Making a successful case may involve arguing against extending the current farmhouse. For example, is the building listed and, even if not, is it possible to argue that extending the property would compromise its historic integrity? What about longevity and future occupants of the extension?

Furthermore would it diminish the value of the existing property and therefore impact upon the farmer’s ability to sell the farmhouse in future years? Could it be argued that the new property would be better placed on a different part of the farm for operational reasons? And beware, some farmhouses receive an agricultural tie as part of the permission for a new dwelling!

If the local authority does not accept these arguments then an appeal may be in order. We have been involved in many successful appeals on behalf of farmers and their families but understand, you need to be very clear on your grounds before appealing a refusal or conditions deemed to be unsuitable.

For advice on agricultural workers dwellings, or any other rural land and property matter, call Julie on 01768 254 354.