Monday, 22 July 2013

Permitted Development Rights

As many farmers may be aware, from 30th May this year the government introduced new “permitted development rights” for the change of use of agricultural buildings to a range of commercial uses.

“Permitted development‟ is development which benefits from a “blanket” planning permission granted by parliament through the Town and Country Planning legislation. As a result certain changes in use of agricultural buildings will no longer require planning consent to be granted by the Local Planning Authority (LPA).

The new permitted development rights allows an existing agricultural building, and any land within its curtilage, to change use to a “flexible” use falling within a variety of commercial uses including, shops, restaurants and cafes, offices, light industrial, storage and distribution, hotels, guest houses and leisure facilities such as a gym. As one can see this covers a broad range of uses and opens up significant opportunities for farmers.

As one can imagine however, there are conditions and limitations imposed on these rights. The most significant restrictions are that the cumulative area on which the change of use takes place must not exceed 500 square metres on the “original agricultural unit”, the building involved is not listed and must have been in solely agricultural use since 3rd July 2012 or for buildings brought in to agricultural use after that date they must have been in agricultural use at some stage during the previous 10 years.

After a building (or site) has changed use its “planning status” will be that of sui generis. This means that the building (or site) will not benefit from any other permitted development rights. This is significant because at the same time as these rules were introduced, a similar permitted development right was introduced which allowed the change of use from office to residential use. Accordingly this prevents one using a series of permitted development rights to convert an agricultural building in to a house for example.

There is a requirement to notify the LPA of any changes of use and the detail which is required depends upon the scale of the change, being simpler for changes of up to 150 square meters and more complicated for changes between 150 and 500 square metres. However in either instance making the notification is a far simpler and cheaper process than would otherwise be the case if a full planning application was required.

The LPA then has 56 days to either come back for more information on issues such as transport, noise, contamination or flooding and if the LPA has not made a decision within 56 days the change of use can proceed. If a prior approval application is refused, the applicant has two options - either to appeal the prior approval refusal to the Planning Inspectorate or to submit a full planning application.

This is of course only a summary of the rules and if anyone is contemplating exploiting these new rules they are well advised to take professional advice. However, what is clear is that these rules do represent a great opportunity for some farmers to diversify their business without the hassle, cost and delay of gaining planning consent for what in many instances is an entirely sensible and non controversial alternative use.

James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells

T: 01749 683381

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Harvest is comming

As we bask in this beautiful weather many farmers’ minds are turning to harvest. The winter barley is just turning and despite the hot weather, harvest is likely to be several weeks later than usual. However, this is much needed sun which will hopefully help fill out the heads of corn which last year simply did not develop properly because of the lack of sunshine.

Those livestock farmers who are growing maize will also be delighted to see the good weather because most of the maize went in very late and was slow to germinate and grow. In early July maize should be about knee high but many crops I have seen around here are well short of this but provided the sunshine continues it should grow by several inches a day and so there is hope that even the late sown crops will produce a sensible yield later this year.

However, some winter sown crops in particular look very poor and patchy due to the wet weather last year which meant that establishing a seed bed was nigh on impossible and so it is anticipated that in general crop yields will be down. Indeed those farmers who held their nerve and did not attempt to sow crops in difficult conditions last autumn may well have made the correct choice in waiting until the spring to sow the fields.

The disadvantage of spring sown crops is that they generally yield less than autumn sown crops and are therefore less profitable although input costs in the form of fertilisers and sprays also tend to be a little lower which helps underpin the bottom line to some extent.

But, there were plenty of farmers who did not hold their nerve last autumn who have some very poor crops in the ground. In some cases the extra costs that have been spent on re-sowing all or parts of their land will simply have not been worth it and they would have been better to spray the crop off and leave it fallow for the season in hope of getting a seed bed established in good time this autumn rather than throwing good money after bad.

So, although this spell of good weather is welcome, the aftermath of last year’s appalling weather is still to play itself out in what is likely to be a poor harvest this year with winter cereal and oilseed rape yields down sharply in particular.

James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells

T: 01749 683381

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Sights set on Cambridge sites

The headline property story of the summer so far is that, four months on from announcing it re-locating to Cambridge, AstraZeneca has chosen the Cambridge Biomedical Campus at the Addenbrooke’s site as the new location for its corporate HQ and new UK-based global R&D facility.

The fact that a ‘Cambridge site’ has been selected as the location for the new £330 million operation is not necessarily as newsworthy as the fact that biopharmaceutical giant could find a site in Cambridge to accommodate its expansive requirements.

Obviously the identification of Cambridge and a suitable site were made in tandem but there were only two sites in the running: Granta Park and the Biomedical Campus. The smart money was always on the latter, simply because of the scope of the site and the compatibility of complementary academic institutions and R&D programmes on-site already.

Selecting ‘Cambridge’ as the location for a corporate HQ or R&D operation – or both - is the easy bit. Indeed, selecting a site is easy because the choice is becoming increasingly limited.

It’s finding a site that can meet the high quality requirements and the kind of expectations that blue-chip corporates have of Cambridge that can prove problematic.

The imperative to pre-let in Cambridge to secure the right site has never been so urgent – AstraZeneca’s new HQ won’t be built until 2016.
Property is something that corporate behemoths like AstraZeneca will have been advised of a long time before contemplating a move to anywhere and that’s not just Cambridge and it’s also not simply because of the bespoke requirements of its niche sector.

It’s surprising how low a priority property availability is on the business agenda of companies who, while they may not be in the same league as the corporate giants, nevertheless are big enough and savvy enough in all their other business dealings to know better.

Indigenous, home-grown ‘Cambridge’ companies are often the most complacent in considering property availability when masterminding business growth and expansion plans.
Perhaps this is a legacy from the turn of the century when the early stage founders of companies of that time did have a pick of property-opportunities on the science parks and business parks.

Not so in the second decade of this century.
For more than three years, agents in the city have red-flagged the paucity of Grade A stock availability in the Cambridge area would mean that occupiers with mid-decade growth would need to look to a pre-let or face rising rents to secure premium business space.

The pre-let route, where planning permission is in-situ and finance in place still demands early action as it can take anything from 15-24 months from negotiations to practical completion to deliver a bespoke building.

But sites are running out and the development pipeline in the Cambridge is drying up. At the end of last quarter (Q1 2013), schemes with planning consent totalled just 3.8 million sq ft.

Sound like a lot? It’s not. Not when you consider AstraZeneca will occupy circa 11 acres of the 70-acre Biomedical Campus.

The reflected business glory of Cambridge in which we are all happy to bathe, means that more corporates will have Cambridge’s remaining sites in their sights.

Will Mooney MRICS

Commercial, Cambridge

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Rural Health and Safety

Having attended one of our regular Health and Safety audits, the dangers of working in the countryside and the responsibilities of farmers, contractors, landowners and land agents were once again brought home to me.

Agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries in which to work – there were 34 fatalities on farms last year representing an annual death rate of 9.9 per 100,000 workers. This compares to 50 people killed in the construction industry representing a death rate of 2.3 per 100,000 workers and an overall average rate of 0.6 per 100,000 workers across all forms of employment.

There are a number of reasons for this huge disparity but I would suggest some of the most obvious are that farmers often work alone, the costs involved in dealing with health and safety matters are often high and farmers have a “have a go” attitude to almost everything they encounter. As a result of this combination of factors farmers and farm workers will often do things which would simply not be allowed in a factory or on a building site for example.

The most common cause of problems is working at height where falling from ladders or through roofs are the most common issues to consider but accidents with machinery are also very common.

I work in a variety situations and see the difference in approach taken on health and safety measures in the rail industry and construction industries for example as compared to those often seen on farms. As a result it is no surprise that there are so many more deaths and serious injuries in the agricultural industry as compared to the rail or construction industries.

The construction industry used to have a similarly poor record to agriculture but in recent years there have been significant improvements. This was exemplified by the fact there was not a single fatality during the construction of the whole of the Olympic Park in London. However, on smaller scale building and refurbishment works there are still too many incidents and many of these will be found on farms.

The devastation that death or serious injury can bring to the individuals and families involved is terrible to see. In the twenty or so years I have worked in the farming industry in this area I have known a number of people affected by such incidents. This brings home the fact that however much hassle it may be to carry out a risk assessment and implement a safe system of work, whether that be for clearing gutters or replacing a tile on the roof, farmers and all those involved in carrying out work on a farm need to take the issue of health and safety more seriously.

Accidents will always happen but with a bit more thought many of these could be prevented and the agricultural industry needs to give it more than lip service, directing real energy and resources towards it.

James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells

T: 01749 683381

Monday, 1 July 2013

NFU give cold welcome to CAP deal

As predicted a couple of weeks ago a deal was struck in Brussels last week over the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the consequences of which will be far reaching for farmers throughout Europe. However, closer to home this has not been welcomed by the National Farmers Union (NFU) in particular. This is not necessarily because of the deal itself but because of fears that our own government may create rules which could disadvantage farmers in England.

These fears are not entirely unfounded in that when the last reforms were introduced, the then Environment Secretary, Margaret Beckett imposed the rules in England in such a complicated manner that I still have clients who are trying to get errors corrected that go back to 2005. The rules in Scotland and Wales were by comparison much more straightforward.

The issue appears to be that individual governments will be allowed significant flexibility at a local level on how to implement the new reforms which on the face of it sounds very sensible – after all what is “common” about olive groves in Greece and grassland on Mendip.

At the time of writing the details are still unclear but there is no doubt that DEFRA, the government department which will oversee the new scheme in England, does have a track record of “leading the way” in the implementation of new ideas. In themselves these may not be a problem but if we are the only country which introduces them, then this can have the effect of disadvantaging English farmers over those even in Scotland or Wales not to mention the rest of Europe.

DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson has explained that the flexibility will mean that farmers in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales could be reassured their governments now had complete freedom to deliver a CAP tailored to their individual needs. He explained, "I think it is good these sorts of decisions are made as locally as possible, so all four parts of the UK will now have complete control of all four regulations of the CAP - so there will be a completely Scottish CAP, a completely Welsh CAP and obviously [the same] in England."

Clearly, as with all these complicated deals, the devil will be in the detail and this is likely to emerge in the coming months but the “local” flexibility which appears to have been built in to the regulations could turn out to be a double edged sword and farmers leaders and other countryside organisations will no doubt have a lot of lobbying still to do before the implications of the new deal for farmers in England is fully understood.

James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells

T: 01749 683381