Farm Diversification and Planning Permission in Scotland: guidance

Guidance on farm diversification and planning permission.

A Guide to Farm Diversification and Planning Permission in Scotland


Agriculture is essential to rural communities, the rural economy and the environment. Around 70,000 people in Scotland are directly employed in agriculture, with significant numbers employed indirectly in downstream and ancillary industries.

Despite high levels of Government support, farming incomes have been badly depressed in recent years. Many farmers are therefore looking at new ways to generate income outwith mainstream agricultural activity. Although diversification will not be practicable for every farmer, well planned and reasoned projects can create new sources of income for farmers, and can enhance the range of facilities available in our rural areas.

Your land and buildings are assets that can be used to supplement your income from farming.

Many farmers have already found success by diversifying into alternative enterprises to mainstream agriculture. Some farmers have allowed others to use buildings or land to bring new enterprises onto the farm.

In some cases planning permission will be required for a farm diversification project. This booklet explains the process you should go through if you want to diversify your farm business, and highlights some examples of recently successful projects.

Our Vision

The Scottish Executive is committed to a developing and thriving rural economy that sustains communities and takes proper care of the environment. The planning system has an important part to play in this. The relationship between town and country is changing and modern technology is allowing new types of work to locate in rural areas. Planning policies for rural areas should enable them to develop and thrive without damaging environmental quality. National Planning Policy Guideline 15 on rural development encourages planning authorities and other organisations to adopt a more positive and proactive approach to providing development opportunities.

Do I Need Planning Permission?

Most activities connected with mainstream farming and forestry do not need planning permission. However, if you propose to develop a project outwith mainstream farming the possible need for planning permission has to be examined carefully.

If you propose to alter the appearance of an existing building substantially, convert a building to a different use, develop a new building for a use not classed as agriculture or forestry or construct a new access or car park then you will generally need planning permission. Planning permission is also necessary for any larger agricultural buildings either over 465 square metres or 12 metres in height and any building for the keeping of livestock for non-agricultural purposes, such as horses. Planning permission is normally not required if you are planting woodland or changing crops or livestock.

It is always worth checking first with your planning authority even if you think that your proposed project does not need planning permission. You can phone them for informal advice, but you need to obtain confirmation in writing before taking any positive action based on such advice. If you go ahead without the necessary planning permission your planning authority could take enforcement action against you, which could require you to stop an activity or demolish a new building.

Permitted Development

The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development Order) (Scotland) 1992 Class 18 allows a wide range of agricultural and forestry developments to proceed without the need for a full planning application. Some temporary uses of land are also permitted if they run for no more than 28 days in a year.

Most typical building, excavation and engineering operations for the purpose of farming or forestry are permitted development. But there are exceptions where planning permission is needed, such as development of livestock, sewage or slurry structures within 400 metres of a building normally occupied by persons not involved in farming, or development within 25 metres of a trunk road. Your planning authority can tell you what is, or is not, permitted development.

Whether or not planning permission is required, careful consideration should always be given to the siting and design of any new development. Advice on siting and design can be obtained from your planning authority.

Prior Notification

In 1992, because of concerns about the environmental impact of some substantial new buildings in rural areas, additional referral arrangements for farming and forestry buildings were introduced.

The planning authority has to be informed about the erection of any new agricultural or forestry buildings, significant extensions or alterations to existing buildings and the alteration of a farm or forestry track. This is not a planning application, although there is a fee, currently 42. The purpose of the referral is to allow the environmental impacts to be considered and to ask for any changes in siting and design to be made. The authority has 28 days to decide whether to then ask for full details to be submitted for prior approval of the siting, design, external appearance and means of construction. This is required only if the authority considers that the proposal is likely to have a significant impact on its surroundings. Most notified proposals do not have such an impact and will be allowed without further details having to be submitted.

Environmental Designations

Your permitted development rights may be restricted if your farm is situated in or near an environmentally designated area such as a Special Protection Area (SPA) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC), or within a National Scenic Area (NSA) or Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). You should ask the planning authority or Scottish Natural Heritage whether there are any special designations affecting your proposed site and the implications for your application.

Designation as an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) does not bring with it any special status within the planning system, such as restricting permitted development rights.


Steading conversion, East Lothian

Historic Environment

Some farm buildings are also listed buildings of special architectural or historic interest which must not be demolished or altered in any way without the consent of the planning authority. In a very few cases, farm land may fall within a conservation area which is designated for its historic interest. Permitted development rights are restricted in such areas.


Email: Central Enquiries Unit

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