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New businesses for old farms

Measures to help small businesses get planning permission for development in the countryside are proposed in the White Paper.

One proposal is to favour the conversion of old farm buildings into business premises rather than homes , most of which are bought by incoming town dwellers. The Government proposes that local councils, which grant planning permission for the conversions, should have more freedom to prefer business over residential uses for disused barns and outhouses. A consultation document will soon be issued.

According to a survey by the Council for the Protection of Rural England, the great majority of conversions are to housing - and that contributes to a suburban, "dormitory" countryside full of commuters or retired people.

Another proposal is to give local planners a new weapon in their armoury of controls on development in the countryside - rural business use. When planning permission is granted, it covers a specified use of the site - for retail, housing, offices or industry - which can continue indefinitely. But councils are sometimes reluctant to grant planning permission for uses ''which they fear might intensify beyond what is appropriate for a rural location'', says the White Paper. A new rural business category could allow them to set down conditions permanently preserving the area's character.