For many months, lockdown has placed severe restrictions on people’s movements, resulting in a significant cultural shift towards toward new hobbies and lifestyle preferences. Particularly, a greater appreciation for open green spaces and a surge in demand for homes and holidays in quieter, less densely populated rural areas, will offer a multitude of business opportunities for the canny farmer in the coming months and years.
House buyers seek rural idyll
A recent survey from Savills has revealed a surge in buyer interest for quieter, more private rural dwellings with plenty of open space. Many people now expect to work from home (at least part-time) for the foreseeable future, meaning that those previously confined to densely populated commuter hotspots are able to extend their search further afield. Demand for properties in prime city locations is waning as well-connected rural towns and villages become a realistic prospect for remote workers.
To take advantage of this shift in buyer tastes, farming businesses could consider converting obsolete buildings to residential use. This could be achieved via Class Q permitted development rights, which facilitate the conversion of agricultural buildings to residential properties. There are various restrictions to Class Q – for example, it doesn’t apply to buildings that were not being used for agricultural purposes prior to 20 March 2013, and limits the building in question to a floor space of 450 square metres or less. It’s worth consulting a specialist agricultural planning expert before proceeding with any conversion plans. It’s important to note that a high-speed Wi-Fi connection will be a non-negotiable requirement for remote workers.
It’s not only individuals that will be looking to move to quieter, less densely populated areas. With lockdown highlighting the importance of taking care of employees’ physical and mental health, businesses may look to move away from densely packed commercial office spaces, choosing instead to base themselves in quieter, rural facilities that offer unique health and wellbeing benefits to staff.
Simultaneously, there may be a rise in demand for mixed use properties, allowing people to live and run their business from the same location.
To benefit from commercial demand for rural workspaces, farming businesses may be able to make use of permitted development right Class R – this facilitates the conversion of agricultural buildings to flexible commercial use. Again, there are restrictions that you should be aware of before proceeding with your plans.
Staycations on the rise
While international travel is slowly reopening to holidaymakers, consumer demand is still subdued. Health fears and quarantine requirements for returnees from some countries means that many tourists are turning to staycations instead, with rural holiday lets, camping and ‘glamping’ becoming increasingly popular options.
Converting agricultural buildings to holiday homes, or renovating existing residential buildings, could therefore become more lucrative than ever for farming businesses. There will be work involved, particularly in terms of adhering to strict social distancing and hygiene restrictions, but with demand for international travel likely to remain muted for the foreseeable future, those who put in the effort stand to benefit from a long-term and profitable revenue stream.
Interest in activities that can be enjoyed safely outside has also boomed, so farming businesses could also increase their income by offering outdoor activities or allowing holidaymakers to engage in some aspects of day-to-day farming activities.
Specialist agricultural lawyers
Woodfines’ Agribusiness and Rural Property team comprises experts from a wide range of disciplines, all of whom have years of experience in dealing agricultural legal matters. Whether you need planning advice on an agricultural building conversion, or legal guidance on letting your property to holidaymakers, we’re here to help. Just email us at email@example.com.