Application for prior approval approved two months following refusal of the same proposal

Our application for the change of use of a former agricultural building to form one dwelling was submitted to Wokingham Borough Council in October 2020.

The application building was a disused poultry shed which ceased use towards the end of the 20th century and, following this cessation, the applicant acquired the site in the early 2000s. The GPDO defines an agricultural building as one which is so used for the purposes of a trade or business, and the planning practice guidance and relevant case law clearly place the onus on the applicant to provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate such a use. When the first application was submitted, it was considered that the information provided was sufficient for the local authority to draw the only reasonable conclusion that the building was used for the purposes of an agricultural trade or business. It is inconceivable that a poultry shed of this size would have been used for anything other than a commercial operation.

The application was refused by the planning officer who cited a number of reasons. Amongst these was the assertion that earlier planning applications made for the change of use of the buildings cast “significant doubt” on the previous agricultural use. Additionally, the local authority was not satisfied it had been demonstrated that the building had been redundant since the end of the agricultural operation. It was put to the officer that prior planning applications do not have the effect of changing the use of a building unless implemented. Additionally, the fact that all of the previous applications had been refused served only to support the fact that the agricultural use had subsisted to the point of application. The local authority was also asked to clarify how one could demonstrate that a building had remained redundant for a period of 20 years, a seemingly impossible task.

The application was refused without consultation with the applicant, the request for additional information or providing the opportunity to withdraw. It is not realistic to expect an applicant to demonstrate that a building was last in use for agriculture beyond the balance of probabilities, particularly in the absence of any contradictory evidence from the local authority. However, rather than pursue a potentially lengthy appeal, the application was resubmitted following some deliberation with the local authority and an agreement to provide some additional supporting information.

The following historic images were provided which show the poultry feed storage silo immediately to the north-east of the building. The pipe from the silo can be seen entering the building which links to the feeder rail shown below.

The feeder rail is still in situ which runs along the complete length of the barn for releasing grain for the poultry as shown below. This is commensurate with a commercial poultry operation.

If an LPA has no evidence of its own, or from others, to contradict or otherwise make an applicant’s version of events less than probable, there is no good reason for the LPA not to be satisfied that the relevant criteria are met, so that the proposed development complies with the qualifying limitations and restrictions set out in Class Q. Additionally, where a building was clearly in agricultural use over a long period stretching back well into the 20th century or even earlier, it may reasonably be surmised, that such agricultural use was probably for the purpose of a trade or business.

The application was subsequently approved in February 2021.