Central Bedfordshire Draft Local Plan (July 2017)

Ended on the 29 August 2017
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(15) 20 Development in the Countryside

20.1.1 Community planning across Central Bedfordshire has shown that preserving the countryside and landscape is an important issue to local people. Central Bedfordshire has a varied and contrasting landscape, ecology and settlement pattern, all of which contribute to the much valued countryside and rural nature of the area. Development in the countryside is sometimes necessary and it is therefore important that it is delivered in accordance with sustainability principles and is appropriate to the character and appearance of the local landscape.

20.1.2 This plan accommodates the needs of communities to grow and thrive through the allocation of appropriate and sustainable sites outside of the Settlement Envelope. The Council will provide positive support to the development of these sites and other appropriate development in the countryside which seeks to improve the vitality of rural villages and improve the rural economy. Where development is proposed, the Council will seek to encourage careful consideration to of the landscape character, the protection of important features in the landscape design and the existing accessibility and compatibility.

(16) Policy DC1: Development in the Countryside

Outside Settlement Envelopes the Council will work to maintain and enhance the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside and only particular types of new development will be permitted. This includes the development of those sites allocated by this and previous development plans and residential development within exception schemes or dwellings for the essential needs of those employed in agriculture or forestry. Proposals which re-use existing buildings or replace an existing dwelling will be acceptable provided they conform to the specific criteria in this plan.

Proposals for employment, tourism, leisure and community uses will also be considered favourably subject to their conformity with the relevant policies in this plan.

Limited extensions to gardens beyond Settlement Envelopes may be permitted provided that they do not harm the character of the area.

(2) 20.2 Re-use and replacement of buildings in the countryside

20.2.1 The re-use and adaptation of rural buildings has an important role to play in ensuring the sustainability of rural areas. Making efficient use of land, including through re-use of previously developed land, is central to the approach to delivering sustainable development. It can assist in agricultural diversification, avoid dereliction, improve the visual appearance of the landscape, reduce demands for new building in the countryside, provide opportunities for tourism and recreation and produce local employment.

20.2.2 In the interests of promoting the rural economy, the re-use of existing building in the countryside to employment generating uses will be particularly encouraged by the Council. The Council, whilst recognising the benefits of the re-use of rural buildings, wishes to ensure that development in the countryside is properly managed. The original building or group of buildings to be converted should therefore be appropriate to the rural setting in terms of scale and appearance. Purely functional buildings such as glass houses and metal framed buildings will not be considered suitable candidates for conversion to residential use. Applicants for the re-use of agricultural buildings erected under permitted development rights will be carefully examined to ensure these rights are not abused and to avoid the proliferation of farm buildings.

(6) Policy DC2: Re-use of Buildings in the Countryside

The Council will support the principle of re-use of existing buildings in the countryside subject to proposals complying with the following criteria;

  • The existing building or group of buildings are of permanent and substantial construction that are capable of conversion;
  • The re-use is sympathetic to the setting of the site within the countryside and would reinforce local distinctiveness.
  • The re-use would be of a high quality and lead to an enhancement of the immediate setting; and
  • The proposed use is suitable and would not be of detriment to the existing communities.

The conversion of functional metal framed buildings to residential use will not be permitted.

(6) Policy DC3: Replacement Dwellings in the Countryside

The Council will support the principle of replacement dwellings in the countryside subject to proposals complying with the following criteria;

  • There would be no net increase in the number of dwellings;
  • The replacement dwelling is  not disproportionately larger in height and scale than the original unless the proposed dwelling would result in an improvement to the character of the area,
  • The replacement building is sympathetic to the setting of the site within the countryside and would reinforce local distinctiveness.

Other relevant national and local policies will apply for developments within the Green Belt.

(4) 20.3 Rural Workers Dwellings

20.3.1 To sustain and enhance the rural economy, the Council will seek to support the growth of the rural economy. Agriculture and forestry have a key role to play in the countryside, underpinning both the rural economy and the landscape character of those areas. Long term conservation objectives are also sometimes best served by environmentally friendly forms of farming and forestry.

20.3.2 The NPPF makes clear that isolated new houses in the countryside require special justification for planning permission to be granted. One of the few circumstances in which isolated residential development may be justified is when accommodation is required to enable agricultural, forestry and other full-time workers to live at, or in the immediate vicinity of, their place of work.

20.3.3 The Council's preference for rural worker dwellings is for such workers to reside in nearby towns or villages or in existing properties nearby their place of work, which would avoid the need for new dwellings in the countryside. The Council accepts however that there may be cases where the nature and demands of the workers role requires them to live at or very close to the work place. Such instances will be judged on the needs of the workplace and not the personal preferences of the specific individuals.

20.3.4 A functional need will have to be established. If a new dwelling is essential to support a new farming activity, whether on a newly-created agricultural unit or an established one, it should, for the first three years be provided by temporary accommodation such as a caravan. Any temporary or permanent dwelling permitted will be restricted to occupancy of the worker on the establishment.

20.3.5 The design and external appearance of agricultural and forestry residential development can be visually harming on the landscape and can result in the loss of important features including those of historic and nature conservation value. Accordingly, any proposal would be considered against design policies set out in the document.

(2) Policy DC4: Rural Workers Dwellings

Permanent dwellings for the use of agricultural and forestry workers will be permitted in the countryside where;

  • there is a clearly established, existing functional need for agricultural, forestry and other full-time workers  to live permanently at or near their place of work in the countryside
  • the unit and the agricultural activity concerned have been established for at least three years, have been profitable for at least one of them, are currently financially sound, and have a clear prospect of remaining so;
  • the  need could not be fulfilled by another existing dwelling on the unit, or any other existing accommodation in the area which is suitable and available or could  made suitable and available for occupation through conversion and change of use; and
  • the scale of the proposed dwelling is no larger than that required to meet the requirements of the enterprise.

The council will consider favourably a temporary new dwelling if it is essential to support a new farming or forestry activity. The dwelling should meet the functional test above and should be;

  • for the first three years
  • be provided by a caravan, a wooden structure which can be easily dismantled, or other temporary accommodation.

Where agricultural, forestry and other full-time worker dwellings are proposed in the Green Belt, Chilterns AONB, Green Belt and AONB policies will be applied in addition to the above.

(3) 20.4 Equestrian Development

20.4.1 By its very nature, equestrian and livestock development requires a countryside location. These activities can make a considerable contribution to sustainable recreation, conservation grazing and the rural economy through diversification of agricultural holdings in the area. However, intensive private activity as well as commercial activities can be visually harmful in the countryside so it is important that environmental quality and landscape character is respected. As such the Landscape Character Assessment should be employed to inform development proposals.

20.4.2 Larger commercial livery yards may be restricted on the grounds of sustainability and accessibility as well as the impact on the landscape and surroundings and ideally should be based on an existing holding.

(1) Policy DC5: Equestrian Development

Horse-related facilities and small scale extensions to existing equestrian enterprises in the countryside will be permitted subject to the following criteria;

  • New freestanding stables and provision for vehicle parking must be well screened from the surrounding countryside, should avoid adverse impact on the public rights of way network and must not interfere with the amenity of adjoining residents.
  • New buildings for indoor equestrian use will only be considered when located adjacent to existing buildings or where they are screened by existing mature landscaping
  • Any proposals for equestrian development including jumps, schooling areas, floodlighting and new buildings/extensions will be considered in the context of the Landscape Character Assessment,
  • The design, scale, siting and use of materials should respect the rural setting including biodiversity interests.

Proposals which are located within close proximity to the bridleway network will be considered more favourably.

Additionally, proposals for larger scale private or commercial enterprises (comprising ten horses or more) will only be considered where the applicants can demonstrate the sustainable nature of their location by means of a traffic impact assessment.

(23) 20.5 Protecting Agricultural Land

20.5.1 Soils are one of the most valuable and vital components of the environment yet their importance is often overlooked. The NPPF requires that local planning authorities should take into account the economic and other benefits of the best and most versatile agricultural land. It states that where significant development of agricultural land is demonstrated to be necessary, local planning authorities should seek to use areas of poorer quality land in preference to that of higher quality.

20.5.2 Farmland is important to Central Bedfordshire in a number of ways. Not only does it have value in terms of food production and as an industry but it also has important environmental value. In the past intensive agricultural practices have often harmed biodiversity but fortunately modern farming methods are increasingly geared to redress past damage and balance environmental needs with those of food production.

20.5.3 Central Bedfordshire has a valuable resource of good to excellent quality agricultural land. The most valuable and productive agricultural land is classified as Grade 1 and in Central Bedfordshire this is limited to areas along the River Ivel and Great Ouse corridors. In light of the pressures for development, the Council will seek to protect the best and most valuable agricultural land from development.

(27) Policy DC6: Agricultural Land

Other than for land that has been allocated within this Local Plan or previous development plans, development that would result in the significant loss of Grades 1, 2 and 3a agricultural land will not be permitted unless;

  • Significant sustainability considerations which override the need to protect the land can be demonstrated; and
  • There are no suitable alternative sites which are available for the proposed development.

When considering the significance of the loss; the grade of the land, the size of the proposed site and the quantum of 'best and most versatile' land in the area will be taken into account.

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