Tony Biebuyck explains the two stage planning application process.

First is pre-application advice, a preliminary discussion with a planning officer about what you want to do. This is optional, a good chance to negotiate. Next is the formal planning application. Both stages incur a fee.

The long application form has plenty of boxes to fill in, online or paper. With this must be submitted documents, as attachments or paper copies: a support statement explaining your business idea, site and location plans and others that vary with the site and local plannng authority.

The local planning authority (LPA) will appoint an expert agricultural consultant to assess your business: the financial and functional tests I mentioned. The consultant is likely to rely on standard industry publications, perhaps the widely used John Nix Pocketbook, that lists finance and labour needed. The Pocketbook warns that these figures only work for large scale agribusiness. LPA experts are often either unaware of that advice or ignore it. The default position for LPA planners is ‘no’, on the basis that if you do nothing, you won’t be criticised for getting it wrong. The business plan must be well argued to overcome that predisposition.

Each smallholding is different, with one thing in common. They are far more labour intensive and financially diverse than any other farming sector. Your planning application has to convince a reluctant LPA and their consultant that you really understand your business in depth and argue and explain the differences from the mainstream.

Bespoke business plans are essential for each unique smallholding. I consulted national academic and industry experts on the finances and labour requirements for husbandry of small numbers of stock or care of plants that require careful adjustment of their growing conditions. Reports might be needed on soil conditions, drainage, pollution and waste disposal. This all costs money.

Plans based on my research have been accepted by LPA experts, so far(!). Smallholdings typically require 50 per cent more labour to care for stock and sensitive crops and can make significantly higher outputs, making more money because of the benefits of intensive care.

Article by Tony Biebuyck, from Smallholder Magazine, June issue, 2019