The society was stung by criticisms from the 180 Rural Labour Manifesto MPs' Group and Tony Blair in the spring. Both had suggested that planning may be holding back agricultural diversification. This did not square with previous studies but there was little up to date information.
The aociety therefore commissioned the University of the West of England to carry out survey work and produce a report entitled 'Rural Diversification of Farm Buildings - An Investigation into the Relationship between the Re-use of Farm Buildings and the Planning System'.
The authors, James Shorten and Isobel Daniels, carried out surveys, including talking to farmers who had sought to diversify in areas of countryside subject to greater metropolitan growth pressure, remote rural areas and countryside areas between these two extremes.
The study concludes that work put in by local authorities to try and help rural farm business diversification continues to pay dividends in the sense that:
* Planning is not holding back farm diversification. The vast majority of applications are approved
* Two-thirds of applicants are satisfied with their experience of the planning system
* Local Plan policies are in line with national guidance and strongly support re-using farm buildings
* 52% of re-uses involve new firms being created
* Most diversification schemes are small scale, employing an average of two people with most journeys to work being less than six miles
* Only half of applicants for farm building diversification projects were actually farmers
* 24% of applications were on non-farmed holdings and 18% of re-used buildings had been sold away from the farm
The report concluded that future planning policies might be tailored to better reflect local circumstances to provide even greater support for farmers and rural communities and identify proposals unlikely to benefit the locality.
The report is timely following the Better Regulation Task Forces recent criticism of the burdens of the planning system.
POS president John Kilford said:
'The planning system has done a great deal to foster rural farm diversification in recent years. The society is pleased to have funded this important piece of research. The continuing high level of approval of planning applications is good to see. The satisfaction level of farmers who have sought planning permission shows the contribution which planners are continuing to make to assist the government's rural diversification agenda'.
The document can be found on the University of the West of England websiteunder What's New?