One of our Rural Surveyors, Anna Meynell tells us how her surveying work has led her into helping rural clients gain planning permission for farm diversification projects.
How did you become involved in the planning side of farm diversification?
I am a Rural Surveyor, and prior to starting at Howkins I had only put together a handful of simple applications for new agricultural buildings. Once I had settled into my role in our Ashby office, I had a couple of clients who wanted to convert existing agricultural buildings into commercial use under permitted development rights. This led to me putting together the planning applications, supporting statements and obtaining permission for the change of use.
The planning element of my job goes hand-in-hand with the rural surveying work I do. I can be out on farms with clients on an unrelated matter and we may be standing next to an older building they are not utilising, it becomes a talking point and clients are often not aware of the opportunities open to them with the new permitted development rights for both commercial and residential use.
What do you enjoy about putting together planning applications for rural clients?
I find the planning side of my job to be really diverse and interesting – and I also enjoy the challenges it presents.
I have submitted a number of successful applications to date, with the most recent one being an application for a permanent agricultural workers dwelling on a farm. This was a tricky application as we had to provide an agricultural justification as well as a planning justification to prove the need for my clients to live on site. The clients had been living in temporary accommodation for three years, the design for the house needed to be sympathetic and practical as a farmhouse, as well as meet the needs of the family.
There is always a balance on managing clients expectations against what will be permitted from a planning policy point of view.
What does your next planning project involve?
I am currently putting together an application for an agricultural building to be converted to residential use under permitted development rights. This involves working closely with the architect to ensure that building design meets the client’s needs but also planning policy.
The permitted development rights from agricultural use to residential provide a great opportunity for clients, as they can be used as a dwelling for a family member who works on the farm or sold off with the benefit of permission to bring in some money to the farm by maximising the assets.
Why is planning key to successful farm diversification and development?
Often clients come to us asking how they can make the most out of their farm. We can help them maximise income, spread risk and help the farm support expanding families. We can do this by taking a view of the farm as a whole, looking at how their farming business operates and analysing how they use their assets.
Recently we had a client who had come out of the diary industry; we discussed his future aims with the farm and concluded that the arable farming enterprise did not need all the dairy buildings. This left the old cubicle shed and another barn ‘redundant’. We decided to apply for a change of use from agricultural to commercial for the barn first as it was under the permitted development rights limit and the application would be straightforward.
This was successful and permission was granted for B8 (storage and distribution) use. We secured a tenant and agreed terms for a 3 year lease on this shed within 2 weeks of getting the permission. We are now in the process of submitting the full planning application on the cubicle shed with the aim of getting B8 use on that one also. This is a more in-depth application with structural surveys and elevation drawing provided to the council as it exceeds the permitted development rights limit. Once this building gets permission for commercial use and a tenant is found, our client should be getting an additional income of £30,000 a year from renting out the two buildings.
Having a stable income from the commercial units on the farm will give some security to our client as he will have a guaranteed income, and it spreads the risk over the different enterprises within the business. For example, this year rape yields are low and wheat is looking to be lower than previous years, but having a guaranteed income helps to absorb the fluctuations that are beyond the clients control.
What can a farm owner do if they have had a planning application refused?
Depending on the grounds of refusal, the application can be appealed. We are able to advise on the appeal process and give our opinion on the likelihood of permission being granted at appeal.
If it is an old application that was refused, we can look at current planning policy to see if things have changed since the refusal and if it is worth submitting another application on these grounds.
Anna studied Rural Enterprise and Land Management at Harper Adams University, during which she completed a placement year at Howkins & Harrison. She then re-joined Howkins Rural Department in March 2017 specialising in planning and development work.
Outside of work, Anna can be found with her horses or trying to shoot clays! She is the proud owner of Ginny the dog, who often accompanies her when she’s out surveying.