What are the main issues to be considered when planning a diversification project?
Reuse of existing buildings
The vacant buildings on a farm or estate can often be a great asset. However, not all buildings are suitable for conversion. They need to be of sound construction, their form, bulk, and general design should be in keeping with their surroundings; and they need to be capable of conversion without major reconstruction.
Scale and intensity of use
This can be where the benefits of producing a feasibility study can be used. The Council can then understand the overall approach to the whole area, rather than an ad hoc approach with small applications trickling in over time. The feasibility study will give a clear guide to how the proposal fits in with the overall plans for the farm or estate.
The scale of any diversification should not undermine the rural character of the surrounding area. In some instances, when a scheme is successful it can grow to such a level which would make it unacceptable. The Local Authority would not want to limit the growth of a successful business. However, it may sometimes need some form of control over it in order that the rural character of the area is not undermined.
Much of some districts are made up of regionally and nationally important landscapes, and those areas which have no designation are still important to local residents. Therefore, diversification schemes require careful consideration in terms of their impact on the surrounding landscape. Mitigation measures such as screen planting around large unattractive areas of car parking will need to be considered. If a proposal is likely to affect trees it may be necessary to contact the Council’s Tree Officer.
Access and traffic activity
Planning policy encourages rural diversification, but by definition, this development is located in more isolated locations which can cause difficulties in terms of access and traffic activity.
Any proposed conversion scheme will need to be considered with regard to the standards set out by the Highway Authority. The District Council in consultation with the Highway Authority will examine the proposal in terms of the level of traffic generation with regard to the suitability of the access and the rural highway network, and highway safety.
Information on the existing traffic movements and proposed traffic movement will need to be submitted with an application. With large scale applications it may be necessary to submit a full Traffic Assessment (seek guidance from a planning officer whether this is necessary for your proposal). The Traffic Assessment should encourage non-car modes of transport.
The level of parking needs to be considered in conjunction with the use. Parking areas need to be well screened from the wider locality, or make use of suitable existing areas. Any hard standing or access should be surfaced in sympathetic rural materials such as rolled gravel.
The local authority can impose planning conditions to control such factors as the hours of delivery and the number of car parking spaces. Such conditions will normally be agreed with the applicant.
Rural buildings may be the habitat of bats and owls. Roosts for these creatures are protected by the provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and it is important that the building is surveyed as early as possible. For further information contact English Nature.
It is advisable early on in the process to discuss the project with neighbours in order to have regard to their concerns which may relate to the following: dust, noise, odour, lighting, and hours of work. It may be possible to reach a compromise at this stage of the process. These issues will be taken into account by the Council when determining an application.
Signs and adverts
New development may require the need to promote and advertise, and therefore signage can become an issue. The signage may need Advertisement Consent, would need to be well designed, should respect the character of the area, and be sited so as not to create a traffic hazard. Most rural businesses need these but their position and size are controlled in the interests of amenity and public safety. It is illegal to display any advertisement on the roadside without the consent of the highway authority. Signs on private land and property usually need planning approval. Exceptions are those less than 0.3 square metres in size that are displayed on premises to identify the business or to inform the public.
Some quick tips:
- Have a clear idea of your objectives from the start.
- Make sure you have studied the local competition and try to find a niche.
- Ensure your project fits in with the rest of the farm or estate.
- Check if the project is eligible for grants. You may be eligible for government assistance.
- Assess the impact of the project on the local area. Showing due diligence early on will demonstrate your commitment to sustainable diversification.
- Let your neighbours know what you have in mind, this is not only courteous and respectful, but may help to avoid any problems during the project.
- Be flexible, and adapt your plans if necessary.
- Don’t press on regardless with a poor idea – you may just be throwing good money after bad.
- Be responsive, and take note of any local opinions and concerns. Your neighbours and the local community are a great asset to you and your future plans.
- Hearsay and assumptions, should not influence your plans. Base your decisions on sound research.
- Decisions by the local authority can take time, be patient, and try to provide them with all the assistance you can.
- Don’t keep changing your plans once they have been submitted. This will only slow your project down, and ultimately cost you money, and potential lack of local authority approval.
- Make sure that you have all the necessary permissions before you start work. It is exciting to get started on new new venture, so ensure that you have the full go ahead from all the relevant authorities before you begin work.
- Do take advice from a consultant!