When it comes to planning there are certain terms that will be useful for you to be aware of. The below are not planning definitions but are helpful to distinguish for the purposes of understanding this guide.

  • Operational development/building works – the building of something attached to your land

  • Change of use – the change of use of land or buildings

  • Permitted development – certain development (building or change of use) is permitted by planning law and does not need planning consent from the Council. However, it often requires ‘prior notification’ to the Council to inform them that you intend to use your permitted development rights.

Planning basics

On the whole, whenever you undertake operational development i.e. the building of something, you will need to demonstrate you either have permitted development rights or will need planning consent.

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Using land and/or buildings for alternative leisure or tourism activities

You can generally change the use of land from agriculture to ‘something else’ for up to 28 days per year without the need to make a planning application through permitted development rights. However, anything that occurs for over 28 days in a year will generally require permission, even if it is only seasonal.

There are some exceptions to the 28-day rule:

  1. If the land is located within an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) then it cannot be used for motorsports including motorcycling or ‘war games’ which include clay pigeon shooting

  2. Of the total 28 days permitted development, only a maximum of 14 can be used for the purposes of holding a market (including car boot sales) or for motorsports

Do I need planning permission to change the use of farm ponds to allow for fishing?

If the activity will take place for more than 28 days per year, then yes. If you are intending to use them jointly for agricultural purposes and fishing then you can apply for mixed-use permission. If you are carrying out ‘operational development’ to facilitate this use, such as building a car park or a toilet block, then this will also require planning consent.

Do I need planning permission where people are coming onto the farm a few days per year, for example, a wolf run or to use a bike trail?

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If you permanently change agricultural land to an alternative use such as making clearly defined trails that are not used for anything else and can no longer be used for agriculture, then yes you will need permission. If you are just using what is otherwise agricultural land for less than 28 days per year then no, you shouldn’t need permission. Again, if you build any associated development such as toilets or a car park you are likely to require permission. Temporary facilities up to the same number of days per year are permitted.

Do I need planning to alter existing buildings to use for leisure or tourism activities?

If you intend to make permanent changes to a building for the purposes of a non-agricultural use, then you will almost certainly require permission for both the physical changes to the building (this does depend on how major or minor the modifications are) and also for the change of use of the building.

Are such projects generally supported and approved?

There are some issues which can be ‘deal-breakers’ as to whether you will be able to gain planning consent. The two main factors which Planning Authorities may consider cannot be overcome, namely Greenbelt and Highways issues.


Some parts of the country are covered by a designation called Greenbelt, which is a policy tool the Government uses to prevent urban sprawl among other priorities. In planning terms, Greenbelt is considered to be very important, and therefore Council’s give a high level of weighting to whether a proposal is ‘appropriate’ in the Greenbelt.

Generally speaking, the Greenbelt planning policy is to prevent any change of use or building of anything other than a few exempted items. Even though logically a few shepherds huts or low key camping in the Greenbelt doesn’t seem like an issue, most of the time it simply doesn’t meet planning policy of the Greenbelt.

Occasionally you can demonstrate what’s called ‘very special circumstances’ to overcome the Greenbelt ‘no’ position. It’s recommended that if you are located in Greenbelt always seek professional planning advice before you approach the Council. To determine if you are located in a Greenbelt area you can use a tool called Magic Maps.

There are other designations such as SSSI’s (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) and AONB’s (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) which can make planning harder but should not be completely prohibitive like Greenbelt can be. Again, you can check any designations using Magic Maps, and take early advice.

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If your site does not have good enough access off a highway then your development is unlikely to be successful. You could have an amazingly exciting project but if it cannot be accessed safely then it is highly unlikely to gain approval. Don’t forget you may be able to put in alternative accesses though.

Other matters considered in a planning application:

  • Siting
  • Design
  • Scale
  • Use
  • Residential amenity
  • Visual Impact
  • Landscape impact
  • Water management/drainage

If you can overcome and clearly show how your application deals with or meets all of the above, and any local criteria, then as a general rule of thumb, local authorities are supportive of planning applications that support rural businesses, create jobs, support farm incomes etc.

It’s recommended that you include a planning statement giving information about your proposed business, how it’s going to run, how it meets planning policy, and provide additional detail on each of the above planning matters.