Clarkson’s Law: Does It Make Diversification Easier for Farms?

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On 21st May 2024 several changes to permitted development rights came into effect, which intend to make it easier for farmers to diversify.  

What is Clarkson’s Clause?

Some of the changes are thought to have come about as a result of Jeremy Clarkson’s hit show Clarkson’s Farm, which has highlighted the difficulties faced by farmers when seeking to diversify, particularly reusing agricultural buildings. In the show, Mr Clarkson seeks to obtain permission for a farm shop and restaurant. One of the recent changes to Class R in the permitted development order – nicknamed ‘Clarkson’s Clause’ – should make it easier to convert unused agricultural buildings to a flexible commercial use. 

How have the changes affected Planning laws? 

The changes are summarised below: 

Farm shop food

1. Wider range of ‘flexible’ commercial uses 

Class R in the permitted development order has been expanded to allow agricultural buildings in England to be used for a wider range of commercial uses, including any use within Class B2 (general industrial), Class B8 (storage or distribution), Class C1 (hotels), Class E (commercial, business or service), and Class F.2(c) (outdoor sport or recreation) of the Use Classes Order. 

Class E is particularly wide and includes the sale of food and drink for consumption (mostly) on the premises, the provision of financial or professional services, indoor sport, recreation or fitness, creche, research and development, and industrial processes. 

However, there are a number of caveats and provisos, including that before carrying out the change of use of a building/s with a floor space exceeding 150 square metres, an application must be made to the local planning authority for a determination as to whether prior approval will be required as to transport/highways and noise impacts, and contamination and flooding risks. 

The amount of floorspace that can change from agricultural use to a ‘flexible commercial use’ has increased from 500 square metres to 1,000 square metres. 

farm storage buildings and outbuildings

2. Changes to agricultural buildings 

Another change is that the limit of the ground area of new buildings or extensions erected on farms over 5 hectares has increased from 1,000 square metres to 1,500 square metres.

For farms under 5 hectares, the limit has increased from 1,000 square metres to 1,250 square metres.

Farm house conversion

3. Rural housing 

The number of homes that can be delivered through the conversion of agricultural buildings under Class Q of the permitted development order has doubled from 5 to 10. 

Other changes include that Class Q conversions can now be extended. 

Housing delivered under Class Q must also receive prior approval from the local planning authority that adequate natural light will be provided, as well as in respect of impacts on transport/highways and noise, contamination and flood risks, and design/external appearance. 

What can farmers learn from Diddly Squat Farm about diversification? 

Of course, Jeremy Clarkson has a wide range of income streams, which extend far beyond his farming business, however, some of his diversification projects at Diddly Squat Farm have proved to be very lucrative, such as: 

  • Opening a food vendor  
  • Brewing his own lager 
  • Experimenting with new crops (such as mushrooms) and livestock (such as pigs) 
  • Opening a café 

There are many other farm diversification ideas which could strengthen your farming business and Clarkson’s Clause represents a move in the right direction to facilitate this and help grow the rural economy.

What challenges do farmers and estate owners face with regard to diversification?

Use of these permitted development rights will remain subject to prior approval by the local planning authority, which is not always straightforward to obtain and can sometimes result in consultation with the local community. 

There are different types of prior approval, depending on the type of permitted development that you are seeking consent for.   

Work must not commence on the development until the Local Planning Authority has granted prior approval. 

Implications for tenant farmers 

Tenant Farmers should check the terms of their lease agreements and consult with their landlord on any proposals. The lease may need to be amended to avoid conflict between the permitted use (under the lease agreement) and the change caused by exercising the permitted development rights.