Susan Law: PDR to cut red tape and help rural communities

Susan Law: PDR to cut red tape and help rural communities

Susan Law

The financial challenges facing the agricultural sector are no secret. But a legal change is opening opportunities which should help landowners and farmers modernise, diversify and create a healthier financial future, writes Susan Law.

Clients are coming forward with exciting proposals to take advantage of the shift to allow them to improve the resilience and sustainability of their estates or enterprises, and create much-needed rural employment. the change also reduces red tape, so often a barrier for farmers and land managers.

The opportunity stems from the updated Permitted Development Rights (PDR) for agricultural land across Scotland. This might sound like a mundane piece of planning legislation, but actually unlocks diversification and creates chances to develop new income streams. This income could help secure the survival of a farming or land-based business.

The move allows rural landowners to carry out minor developments or changes, such as erecting, extending or improving buildings without the need to submit a full planning application. This has been welcomed across the sector. The main changes relate to the size limit on new agricultural buildings, conversion of agricultural buildings for homes or commercial use, peatland restoration and digital telecoms infrastructure.

Previously, farmers could erect certain agricultural buildings, such as sheds, under PDR so long as they did not exceed 465m². The floor space limit has been extended to 1000m², except in areas such as national parks or conservation areas. Also, rules now allow agricultural buildings to be converted into up to five dwellings, as long as the buildings had solely agricultural use prior to, or on November 4, 2019 and aren’t listed or located on croftland. They also cover the conversion of agricultural buildings for ‘flexible commercial use’, which could include shops, food and drink businesses and ‘non-residential institutions’. Listed buildings are not included.

The changes offer opportunities around tackling rural housing problems, encouraging tourism and showcasing the fantastic food and drink produced across rural Scotland. All avenues come with the potential to create, or at least sustain, jobs.

Given the intense environmental focus on agriculture and its response to the climate emergency, it’s never been more important for landowners to consider how land use can impact upon emissions management and make the most of natural assets. PDR now allows for work to restore peatland – such as stabilisation, revegetation, reprofiling and drainage – albeit with the scheme itself still requiring planning approval.

PDR now permits changes including increasing height limits for telecom masts and increasing the size and number of antennas. This should make it easier for landowners to work with tech firms to modernise and secure ground rental income.

These changes might also go some way to easing issues around succession and retirement planning, a major concern in Scottish agriculture. The new PDR can be a positive force in securing the health and sustainability of rural Scottish communities. Its potential should not be underestimated.

Susan Law: PDR to cut red tape and help rural communities

Susan Law is a partner at Lindsays

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