Yes, we have binge watched Clarkson’s Farm Season 2 (as will have most rural agents, planners, farmers and such like!).  We have already seen numerous comments and plenty of coverage on social media surrounding how difficult it is for farmers to genuinely diversify their businesses which, for some, is seemingly almost essential given the reducing financial support from the Government.

It appears most people are echoing the same thoughts which are provoked, in part, as a result of the way Clarkson’s Farm has been presented once filmed.  These thoughts are that Local Authorities are unfairly blocking farmers from diversifying via the planning system.

To say the series was an emotional rollercoaster for all was an understatement, from intrigue at the idea of converting the lambing shed for a restaurant, to eye-rolling at the response from the locals, to frustration at the response at the planning committee, to our jaws absolutely hitting the floor at the suggested cost and route for appeal, to screaming profanities at our televisions watching the attempt at navigating permitted development rights and cringing at the implementation of the incorrectly assumed Class R rights.

However, opinions on Council aside (they are trying their best in ongoing challenging times), we felt the need for an article to address the top take aways from Clarkson’s Farm and the approach to planning.  This is mainly as, as a result of filming stopping when it did, a little more has happened – including closure of the restaurant as a result of impending enforcement (again).  However, left as is – it looked like they were home and dry which could be misleading for some considering their options on the farm.

  1. Some of the advice given was wholly incorrect if indeed given as portrayed on the series.  For all proposals use a planning professional, with agricultural or rural knowledge, to advise on any diversification matters.  It is incredibly important to enlist the help of a suitably qualified and knowledgeable professional to assist with applications relating to farm diversification. Whilst someone may work in the rural professional industry, and occasionally whack the odd simply application is – you will likely need help navigating can be an incredibly complex system;
  2. Class R can be an incredibly useful and indeed you can use the General Permitted Development Order to change the use of a building and land within its curtilage from agricultural to a flexible commercial use subject to qualifying criteria.  For up to 150 sq./m a simple notification is required.  It does not, however, allow operational development – that still requires planning permission (for the building works);
  3. Permitted Development (Sch 2, Part 6, Class A) does allow for excavation and engineering operations.  Despite this it is subject to a prior approval (emphasis on prior) process.  Even if it did qualify in all other respects, not completing prior approval means the proposal cannot be permitted development and can only be regularised via a full application.  In addition, such rights must be reasonably necessary for the purposes of agriculture within that unit… perhaps, therefore, not for a restaurant;
  4. Planning appeals of this nature, seriously, should not come close to £250,000 – £300,000 as banded around nor should it require an inquiry.  If you submitted an appeal of that nature to the Planning Inspectorate, it would most likely be dealt with via written representations or at most a hearing.  Only around 5% of Planning Inspectorate work is conducted through public inquiry (which is not a lot considering the Inspectorate stated they made 17,146 appeal decision in the previous twelve months as at July 2022)*;
  5. Developments within Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty do require more careful consideration due to their sensitive location, however, this does not mean it is a complete barrier to development as perhaps alluded to on the TV on this occasion.

*One of Diddly Squat’s enforcement notice is indeed scheduled for a hearing in mid-March.

We still maintain that farm diversification is key to the rural economy and the system does, on the whole, support local farms when approached in an appropriate manner though some sites can be trickier than others as is the case with all systems.  The TV series has done so much for positively highlighting the difficulties that farmers face, however, has done little for the planning system partly due to appearing overly dramatized so should be taken with a pinch of salt so to speak.

Taking a step back it should be positively remembered that Diddly Squat Farm has had some approvals including the farm shop with its current car park, the new lambing shed as well as allowing the area from which farm shop produce could be sourced to be extended (up to sixteen miles). The farm shop the Council approved can sell local produce from local farmers which is evidently great for the area and those in the vicinity as an outlet securing stronger prices.

As a consultancy we have a large volume of rural clients who have diversified and we have supported their applications which have secured permissions for tourism/camping facilities, farm signage, reception and shop facilities for caravan sites, equestrian use, holiday lets and doggy day care facilities to name a few.  We have used both full application routes as well as Class R (prior approval applications and simple notification letters) combined with full applications for operational works.  This is alongside securing permission for new farm buildings via the full application route and prior approvals for all types of farming from livestock to dairy and arable.

The correct advice is key from day one so, if you have a diversification project in mind (or need additional farm infrastructure and buildings) get in touch via the contact page or book in for a fifteen minute mini-chat!