‘Clarkson’s Law’ and the conversion of agricultural buildings

On behalf of Attwaters Jameson Hill posted in Planning Law on Friday, May 31st, 2024

Jeremy Clarkson’s foray into the world of farming has been followed with interest by the nation since the launch of his hit television show, Clarkson’s Farm, in 2021. Previously known for his penchant for fast cars in his role as Top Gear host, and later as Chris Tarrant’s replacement on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, his sidestep into farming seemed more than a little out of character.

Fast forward to May 2024, however, and Clarkson and Diddly Squat Farm were being hailed as the driving force behind ‘Clarkson’s Law’, a change to planning legislation that enables farmers to convert disused farm buildings into homes, shops and restaurants without the need for planning permission.

What is Clarkson’s Law?

Clarkson’s Law involves changes to permitted development rights, and more specifically, changes to Class Q and Class R, which govern the change of use of agricultural buildings into homes and commercial units, respectively.  

Four key changes have been made:

Larger farm buildings can now be converted to a wider range of uses

The maximum floorspace for an agricultural building to qualify for a change of use from agricultural use to ‘flexible commercial use’ has increased from 500m2 to 1,000m2. Meanwhile, the maximum floorspace to convert an agricultural building into a home has also increase from 865m2 to 1,000m2.

Farmers can now erect larger buildings and extensions

For farms greater than five hectares, the ground cover limit for agricultural buildings and extensions is now 1,500m2, up from 1,000m2. For smaller farms, the limit is 1,250m2.

Agricultural buildings can be used for more purposes

This now covers the ability to use agricultural buildings for outdoor sport or recreation facilities and the processing of a range of raw materials (within strict limits).

Farmers can convert agricultural buildings into a larger number of homes

Farmers will now be able to build up to 10 homes (with a floorspace limit of 150m2), up from the previous five, with a total floorspace limit of 1,000m2. Protected landscapes may be exempt from this permitted development right.

These legislative changes (particularly regarding the changes to Class R) are reputedly inspired by Clarkson’s ongoing battle with Oxfordshire District Council over his use of a former lambing shed as a restaurant and farm shop without obtaining planning permission. However, it is also true that they have been introduced following a formal consultation launched in July 2023 by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Coming into force on 21 May 2024, the new law will “give [farmers] the freedom to grow their businesses and plan for their futures,” according to Lee Rowley, Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety.

Prior approval still required

A common misconception with permitted development rights is that no form of approval is required whatsoever. However, a blog published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) explains that:

“Use of these permitted development rights remain subject to their existing approvals by the local planning authority. This allows planning matters to be considered in consultation with the local community. For example, to change agricultural buildings to homes and flexible commercial use, individuals must seek prior approval from the local planning authority for specific issues and risks including transport and flooding.”

Prior approval for permitted development rights is usually less onerous than a full planning application; even so, the approval process will vary according to the right in question, meaning that it is vital for farming businesses to consult with a planning lawyer to ensure they do not fall foul of the rules.

Get in touch

If you believe that your business may be affected by ‘Clarkson’s Law’, please do get in touch with our expert Head of Town and Country Planning, Salvatore Amico. With decades of experience in the complex field of planning law, he can support you and your farming business as you navigate the new legislation.

Call Salvatore on 0203 871 0039 or email salvatore.amico@attwaters.co.uk.

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