Planning matters blog | Lichfields

Planning matters

Our award winning blog gives a fresh perspective on the latest trends in planning and development.

Creating rural workspaces for a flexible post pandemic economy
I’m sure we all well remember over a year ago in March 2020 the sudden feeling of restlessness and unease which swept through the nation and workplaces as headline after headline delivered the irrepressible news that this virus was also sweeping through the nation, and it was about to upend life as we knew it for a longer period of time than any of us would have dared imagine. In what felt like an overnight transition, businesses which were still allowed to operate had flexibility forced upon them, as employees found themselves working from home with new working practices put in place with a rate of urgency never before required. It has been a challenging time for almost all, and were it not for the flexibility which businesses have demonstrated they can wield to endure and survive, it would have been significantly harder for a great many more people. And for the most part, here we are over a year later, many of use still in these ‘temporary’ working arrangements. Though with the arrival of spring, the grass roots of normality seem to be coming through and the return of a previous reality appears on the horizon. Now represents the best time to ask ourselves, how do we want to balance our work and our lives? Now we have demonstrated that flexible working can work, and certain people can thrive within it, is it the correct decision to fastrack a return to the previous way of doing things? Demand for rural property has been through the roof due to the pandemic, as people realised that rural properties are often larger, close to natural beauty hotspots and are typically cheaper than an urban equivalent. These rural locations are feasible if people no longer need to commute to a city-centre office. [1] But whilst the residential flight to the countryside has been well documented, there has also been growth in the market for rural business space to support those living in rural areas and needing the benefits that a convenient office-space can provide. There is a little-used part of the planning system that facilitates the provision of these working spaces through Permitted Development rights; allowing for the conversion of Agricultural Buildings to business hubs, amongst other uses. Permitted Development Class R permits the change of use of agricultural buildings to a flexible commercial use of a retail unit, restaurant or café, office, commercial storage/distribution use, hotel, or a range of leisure uses, such as a concert hall or gymnasium. The permitted development route establishes that the principle of the development is acceptable, subject to meeting certain criteria; The buildings have been used for agriculture since July 2012; No more than 500sqm cumulative floorspace is proposed to be changed; The agricultural building proposed to be converted is not a Listed Building. If the cumulative floorspace proposed to be changed does not exceed 150sqm, the following information must be provided to the LPA: the date the site will begin to be used for any of the flexible uses; the nature of the use or uses; and a plan indicating the site and which buildings have changed use. If the cumulative development exceeds 150 sqm the following must be submitted to the LPA for Prior Approval: an assessment of the transport and highways impacts of the development; noise impacts of the development; contamination risks; and flooding risks on the site. The LPA, through the Prior Approval process then has 56 days to respond to the application stating that prior approval is acceptable or refuse the application. If they do not respond within the 56 days, the application is granted consent. The application can only be refused on the grounds of unacceptable highways, flooding, noise or contamination impacts as a result of the proposal. While the above process establishes the acceptability of the use of the agricultural building for commercial purposes, any material amendments to the fabric of the building in order to facilitate this change of use would require a separate planning application. Given the national policy support to create rural working spaces, these applications tend to be straightforward. Lichfields has worked on numerous Class R applications nationally, most recently at Old Bewick in North Northumberland.[2] The opportunity for these developments exists in all rural areas in England and Wales, and provides a simple mechanism which bypasses the bulk of the planning process to deliver the rural workspaces that are anticipated to be in high demand in the post pandemic economy. The relatively simple route through the planning process provides an attractive, reduced risk opportunity for agricultural building owners to diversify and supplement their income streams on their estate; while creating an environment for the new mobile workforce who have recently left the city to work in their countryside environment. The links between reconnecting with nature and the mental health benefits it provides are well established (Source - [3]) and the creation of more rural workspaces would bring often disused buildings back into use while taking advantage of an anticipated demand for these environments. The formation of new ways of working, reaping the mental health benefits of reconnecting with nature through working in the countryside would represent a significant positive to take away from the difficult situation we have all endured. If you would like to discuss any of the opportunities raised through agricultural permitted development, please feel free to get in touch with me at any time. [1] Farming UK: 1 in 2 young people want to swap city for countryside; Rural Services Network: Lockdown drives demand for rural property; and Rural Services Network: Increasing demand for rural properties to increase as pandemic continues  [2] https://bdaily.co.uk/articles/2021/05/04/planning-permission-granted-for-conversion-of-rural-northumberland-barn-into-office-space [3] https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/nature-and-mental-health/how-nature-benefits-mental-health/

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Size(mix) matters

Size(mix) matters

Simon Coop 24 May 2018
Housing issues are never far from the headlines, and one simple truth lies at the heart of the matter: we are not building enough new homes. But in addition to ensuring that sufficient new homes are delivered, we must also ensure that an appropriate mix of housing is achieved. If the emerging housing supply does not reflect the needs and demands of existing and potential future residents, there is a risk that an imbalance will emerge between the supply of and demand for certain types of residential property. The consequence would be that the prices of those properties that are more in demand would increase at a faster rate than that of the overall housing stock, exacerbating affordability issues and undermining the ability of certain sectors of the population to meet their housing needs.   The importance of achieving an appropriate housing mix is reflected in government policy, which states at paragraph 50 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF): “To deliver a wide choice of high quality homes, widen opportunities for homes ownership and create sustainable, inclusive communities, local planning authorities should: “Plan for a mix of housing …; “Identify the size, type, tenure and range of housing that is required in particular locations, reflecting local demand…;” The draft NPPF launched for public consultation in March 2018 adopts a similar approach; paragraph 62 states: “Policies should identify the size, type and tenure of homes required for different groups in the community…” The current PPG provides some detail about how to identify the need for certain types of housing and the needs of different groups, but does not provide any specific guidance on how to identify the mix of different house sizes that is required. Lichfields has launched a new product, Sizemix, which provides a robust and transparent means for identifying the size, type and range of housing that is required in a local area, in line with national policy. A complex relationship Understanding the right mix of housing relies on an appreciation of the differences between housing need and demand. This difference is particularly acute in the open market sector, where households are free to occupy housing in accordance with what they want and can afford. In this context, whilst housing need draws solely on the size and structure of individual households, housing demand reflects the reality that many people will often deliberately under-occupy their homes and thereby express a demand for a property that is larger than they might specifically need. For example, a couple might only need a one-bedroom property but might want a larger property. This pattern leads to a combination of overcrowding and under-occupation. According to the latest available ONS’ standards of occupancy[1], 700,000 households in England were overcrowded at the time of the 2011 Census, of which over 400,000 were households with dependent children. A total of 3.8m households (c.20%) occupied housing in line with their needs, whilst 7m households had at least 2 spare bedrooms. Figure 1 provides a breakdown of occupancy patterns by household type. The highest levels of under-occupancy are amongst older households and couples without children, compared to the highest level of over-occupancy amongst households with children and multi-adult households. Figure 1 Occupancy patters in England by household type Source: Census 2011. Excludes social rented. Table 1 considers the relationship between household and dwelling size in more detail by illustrating the occupancy patterns of all private sector households in England. It shows that 2-person households in 3-bed dwellings form the largest household-dwelling group, with 16.1% of households falling within this group. Contrary to what might be expected, most single person households (19.9%) occupy 2 and 3-bed dwellings, with relatively few occupying 1-bed dwellings. Interestingly, a similar number of 5-bed dwellings are occupied by 4-person households as by 2-person households. Table 1 Household size by number of bedrooms Source: Census 2011. Excludes Social Rented Households Explaining the relationship between household size and dwelling type A range of factors impacts on housing requirements, in addition to household size. The fact that many people view their home as an investment means that they will often seek to buy one that they can afford, rather than the space that they actually need, even though such a property might be too large. Having spare bedrooms is viewed positively by many households; it provides flexibility for changing circumstances (such as the birth of a child) and allows visitors to stay, with both being significant factors for many people when searching for and choosing to buy a new home. Another factor that might influence the current and future demand for larger homes is the trend for working from home. There has been a steady rise in the proportion of people in employment working from home. As of 2017 this stands at 13.6% of people in employment. Increases in the number of people working from home may translate into a demand for larger housing as people seek additional space for use as an office. Whilst some changes to households result in the need for larger properties, others may create the opportunity to downsize – for example, when ‘empty-nesters’ no longer need all the space in their family home. However, as shown above, this often does not happen, with 2.4m households (84%) over the age of 65 having at least 1 spare bedroom, and just 718,000 (15%) occupying housing in line with their ‘needs’. This might relate to a lack of sufficient supply of housing products perceived to be attractive to those downsizing, but equally research suggests there is simply a strong preference from many people to remain in their existing home. The English Housing Survey shows that older households are the least likely to move, with just 2.3% of households over the age of 75 and 3.1% of households aged between 65 and 74 moving in the previous 12 months. By comparison, younger Sizemix Within the context of a need to increase the rate of house building, it is of critical importance to ensure that an appropriate mix of housing is provided to meet demand. Sizemix represents an important addition to the range of tools provided by Lichfields. It supports all involved in the development process by helping to ensure an adequate supply of the right type of houses can be delivered, in line with local requirements. Further details of Sizemix are available here. Please contact any of our offices to discuss how we might be able to assist you.   [1] Occupancy as defined using ONS standard of occupancy. Occupancy rating of -1 or less indicates overcrowding, +1 or more indicated under-occupancy.  

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