HC Deb 11 June 1991 vol 192 cc482-5W
Mr. Lawrence

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he will announce the outcome of the consultation about planning controls over agriculture and forestry buildings conducted by his Department and the Welsh Office.

Sir George Young

On 5 October 1990 my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Wales issued a consultation paper inviting views on two significant changes to the present permitted development rights enjoyed by agriculture and forestry. We are grateful to the large number of bodies and individuals responding to this exercise. A list of their submissions is being placed in the Library of the House, where copies will be available on request. We have also published a research report on the subject—"Permitted Development Rights for Agriculture and Forestry"—which is available through HMSO.

The consultation paper proposed: (i) the extension to all areas of England and Wales of arrangements similar to those which already apply in the national parks, giving local planning authorities discretion to require details of new agricultural and forestry buildings to be submitted for approval; (ii) an increase, in all areas of England and Wales, in the minimum area of agricultural land attracting permitted development rights under class A of part 6 of schedule 2 to the General Development Order.

The Government have decided to implement both these changes by amendment to the General Development Order and to extend controls further in certain respects.

The current scheme in the national parks requires anyone who wishes to erect a farm or forestry building that falls within the definition of permitted development not requiring a specific planning permission to first send basic information about the proposed development to the local planning authority. The authority then has 28 days to decide whether the proposed development is likely to have significant effects on its surroundings. If so, it may require the submission of details for formal approval. Consultation on submitted details would be a matter for the authority's discretion.

If the authority does not ask for details, the development can proceed after the expiry of the 28-day period. If details are sought, the authority's consent will be needed before the development can proceed, but it may concern itself only with the siting, design, and external appearance of the building. It may not challenge the need for the development. If the authority does not approve the proposed details, the applicant has the right of appeal to the Secretary of State.

In the light of the consultation responses, and the research carried out, we have decided to build on the experience of the national park arrangements by making them apply to all parts of England and Wales. In addition to the consultation proposals, we intend in the light of the views expressed: (i) to make the arrangements cover not only new buildings, but also significant extensions and alterations, and farm and forestry roads. Extensions and alterations and farm and forestry roads are already covered in the national parks; and (ii) both in national parks and elsewhere, to expand the considerations to be taken into account by local planning authorities to cover not only visual aspects, but also the desirability of preserving ancient monuments and their settings, known archaeological sites, the settings of listed buildings, and sites of recognised nature conservation value including SSSIs.

Some consultees argued that agricultural buildings should be subject to full development control. They claimed that the initial notification and any subsequent consideration of details would together take longer than the normal planning process. On the basis of experience in the national parks, the Government consider that in most cases the local authority will not need to request full details of the proposed development; the farmer will therefore usually be free to proceed after 28 days—much quicker than most planning consents.

As recommended in the research findings, the new arrangements will be accompanied by guidance to local planning authorities stressing the importance of reconciling environmental considerations with the operational requirements of farm and forestry business. We hope to incorporate that guidance in a revised version of planning policy guidance note 7, also reflecting the outcome of consultation on a draft version of that document.

We have considered whether local authorities should be required to charge fees in conjunction with these arrangements. The Government's policy is that local authorities' development control activities should be wholly funded by application fees. Accordingly, we have decided that a fee should be payable, in national parks and elsewhere at the initial notification stage; no further fee would be payable where the local authority decided to request details. The fee will be £20 initially. We will monitor the costs of the operation of the new system over the first three years, and thereafter aim to relate the fee to actual costs, as with other planning fees.

The second main proposal in the consultation paper for new planning controls over agriculture was the extension of full development control to all farm holdings of less than five hectares. We have considered carefully the case put by many consultees and in the research findings for a 10 hectare eligibility limit, but that would double the number of farm units coming within control—so that about one quarter of all holdings would come within control. We do not accept that the case has been made to bring in that degree of control.

We have, however, decided: (i) not to proceed with the idea of an exemption for genuine commercial holdings when extending planning control to holdings of less than five hectares; we have concluded that the proposed genuineness test would be unworkable; (ii) to extend control to separate areas of agricultural land of less than one hectare. Land below one hectare which forms part of a unit of five hectares or more but is separated from it, for example by a public road or by land in different ownership, will thus be subject to full development control.

Below these thresholds, all agricultural permitted development rights under class A of part 6 of schedule 2 to the General Development Order will be withdrawn. These new measures will provide more effective control over development associated with the fragmentation of holdings. They will discourage the erection under permitted development rights of buildings ultimately intended either for non-agricultural uses, or to support an application to erect an agricultural dwelling where in farming terms there may be no prospect of creating a viable holding.

In addition, we propose to improve controls over excavations and engineering operations and over livestock units. Excavations and engineering operations which individually or collectively exceed 0.5 hectares on one site will be brought within the discretionary control system for buildings, in the national parks and elsewhere.

We also intend to rectify an anomaly in the treatment of livestock units. Since 1988 specific planning permission has been required to erect livestock buildings within 400 m of residential or similar property. It has however been possible to use new agricultural buildings within the 400 m cordon for keeping livestock once five years have elapsed from erection. We will amend the General Development Order so that in future new buildings erected within the cordon will not be able to be used for livestock without specific planning permission, except in emergencies. And we will issue further guidance to local planning authorities on development near existing livestock farms.

Taken together, these changes will produce substantial environmental benefits in controlling the effects of agricultural and forestry development, while ensuring that the rural economy can continue to prosper and make its own contribution to the quality of the environment. They represent a significant extension of the rights of local authorities to take an interest in the activities of our agricultural and forestry industries. We therefore intend to monitor the operation of the new system, and to review the position in three years' time with a view to making any further modifications shown to be necessary, either by increasing or reducing control.

Nothing in this statement applies to planning controls over fish farms. We announced last December that we would be withdrawing permitted development rights for fish farm excavations and engineering operations in the national parks. In addition, during Parliament's consideration of the Planning and Compensation Bill, the Government introduced provisions to control floating freshwater fish tanks and cages. I hope to announce shortly a consultation paper on the detailed implementation of these measures, and on the planning treatment of buildings and other developments on fish farms.