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Land use and planning

Applications for planning and changes to land and building use are decided by local planning authorities.

In making their decision the local authorities consider local development plans, take account of government’s national policy guidance, and are encouraged to recognise the need for an efficient and flexible farming industry.

From the farmer or land manager’s perspective, there are four main considerations relating to land use and planning:

  • planning permission: when is permission required and what is the process?
  • permitted development: what developments are permitted
  • Environmental Impact Assessment
  • planning policy statements: the Government’s national policies on different land use planning in England

Separate guidance is available on evaluation and reclamation of mineral and waste sites, including the Good practice guide for handling soils to guide the ongoing improvement in restoration standards and the sustainability of minerals and waste development.

Agricultural Land Classification (ALC)

Land quality varies from place to place. The Agricultural Land Classification (ALC) provides a method for assessing the quality of farmland to enable informed choices to be made about its future use within the planning system. It helps underpin the principles of sustainable development.

The publication Agricultural Land Classification of England and Wales - revised guidelines and criteria for grading the quality of agricultural land was published in 1988 and includes a more detailed description of each of the grades and subgrades than the ALC leaflet available on the Natural England website (see link below).
NB The guidelines are out of print and only available as a downloadable pdf file.

Planning permission

If you are proposing a change of use of land or buildings from agricultural use you will need to apply for planning permission.

While the Government aims to minimise the loss of farmland, particularly the best and most versatile land (grades 1, 2 and 3a), it also recognises the need for a positive approach towards a more diverse rural economy.

You do not require planning permission for agricultural operations or for the use of existing buildings on agricultural land for agricultural purposes.

Applications for planning permission must be decided by the local planning authority – usually the local council or National Park planning authority – in accordance with their local development plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise.

In reaching its decision, the planning authority will also take account of;

  • national policy guidance prepared by central government
  • other material considerations, such as size, layout, siting, design, external appearance, the proposed means of access, landscaping, impact on the neighbourhood, effects on roads, water and other services

Planning permission is always required for dwellings and is often needed if you are applying for grant funding to assist with a project.

The Government booklet A Farmer’s Guide to the Planning System (PDF 800 KB) is a valuable source of information about the regulatory process.

Permitted development

The Town & Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 provides a general planning permission known as “permitted development rights” for certain types of minor development.

The types of permitted development most likely to be of benefit to farmers include:

  • temporary uses of land
  • agricultural buildings below a certain size
  • forestry buildings
  • caravan sites and related buildings in some circumstances

Permitted development rights are not available for farm or forestry dwellings, or for livestock units sited near residential and similar buildings.

Before making use of agricultural permitted development rights, you should check if the local planning authority requires prior approval.

Environmental Impact Assessment

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a formal procedure for ensuring that the potential impact on the environment of certain new development and changes to land use are fully considered before the development begins.

The local planning authority considers the environmental effects of a proposed development, usually in reaching a decision on a planning application. 

EIA will not normally be required for most smaller scale development but is mandatory for certain developments, such as large installations for the intensive rearing of poultry or pigs. Smaller intensive livestock installations and fish farming installations normally require EIA only if they are likely to have significant environmental effects.

Your local planning authority will advise if EIA is required.

Planning Policy Statements

Until recently, government planning policies were laid out in Planning Policy Guidance notes. These have been replaced by Planning Policy Statements.

The Government's rural land use planning policy is laid out in Planning Policy Statement 7: Sustainable Development in Rural Areas.

In particular, farmers and land managers should refer to Annex E of this document, Permitted Development Rights For Agriculture And Forestry.

The law regarding Compulsory Purchase of land for development is laid out in Part 8 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.

Further advice

Planning Aid, a booklet available from the Royal Town Planning Institute (telephone 0121 693 1201) gives details of a free, voluntary service offering independent professional advice and help on planning. It is aimed at individuals, community groups and other voluntary groups who cannot afford to pay for private planning consultants. More information about Planning Aid can be found on the RTPI website.

Useful links



Further information

Defra helpline – 08459 33 55 77

Page last modified: 5 May 2009
Page published: 1 July 2006