Proposed Submission Local Plan 2006-2028

Farm Diversification

8.43 Farming employs a small proportion of the South Somerset workforce and employee numbers have steadily declined over the years, from approximately 3,189 jobs in 2007 to 3,035 jobs in 2010 (a reduction of 5%)[1]. The nature of the industry locally has also changed in recent years, and reflects the trends that are occurring at a national level - whilst there is a growth in the number of farm holdings, the size of holdings is declining and the amount of land farmed is declining (between 2007-2010, there has been an 8% reduction in the amount of land farmed in South Somerset[2]) illustrating a shift in the rural way of life and the rise in 'hobby farming'[3].

8.44 Despite these changes, farming and its associated businesses remain integral to the present and future of South Somerset. Food security, local produce and reducing 'food-miles' remain nationally important, and an increasing onus on a low carbon economy, will provide opportunities for key sectors such as land based industries and renewable energy. It is therefore important to establish policy, which supports a productive countryside and the transition from traditional to new rural enterprises.

8.45 National Guidance recognises that farm diversification, the diversification from the dependence on production of agricultural commodities into non-agricultural activities, is vital to the continuing viability of many existing farm enterprises[4]. The District Council is keen to support development that delivers diverse and sustainable farming enterprises, for example, farm shops, Bed and Breakfast and leasing of land or buildings to other non-agricultural businesses. It is important that proposals for diversification bring long-term and genuine benefits to individual farming enterprises and the wider rural area.

8.46 In encouraging economic diversity and agricultural diversification, it is important that the countryside is not spoilt by the unfettered development of an inappropriate and unwarranted nature. Therefore diversification proposals should be of a scale and nature appropriate for the location and be capable of satisfactory integration into the rural landscape. Such proposals should have regard to the amenity of neighbours, both residents and other businesses that may be adversely affected by new types of on-farm development.

8.47 In some instances when a scheme is successful it can grow to such a scale, which would make it unacceptable and whilst the Local Authority would not wish to limit the growth of a successful business, consideration should be given to the potential impact on the character of the rural location. Also, in more isolated locations, difficulties may arise in terms of access and traffic activity and development may require the need to promote and advertise and therefore signage may also become an issue.

8.48 Proposals must be accompanied by a comprehensive farm diversification plan, which indicates how new uses will assist in retaining the viability of the farm and the agricultural enterprise, and how it links with any other short or long term business plans for the farm.

8.49 National Guidance supports the development of equine enterprises[5] (see Policy EQ8: Equestrian Development).

Policy EP5: Farm Diversification

Proposals for development for the purpose of farm diversification within established agricultural holdings will be permitted if they comply with the following criteria:

  • The character, scale and type of proposal is compatible with its location and landscape setting;
  • A development will not be allowed to proceed unless it can be demonstrated that it will not result in any adverse impacts to the integrity of Natura 2000 sites and other national and international wildlife sites and landscape designations;
  • They form part of a comprehensive farm diversification scheme and are operated as part of a viable farm holding and contribute to making the holding viable;
  • Appropriately located existing buildings should be re-used where possible; and
  • Where new or replacement buildings are required, the proposal is in scale with the surroundings and well related to any existing buildings on the site.

8.50 The AMR will monitor the number of farm holdings and amount of land farmed across the District and the data will be used to target the Council's approach to supporting agricultural businesses and their diversification.

8.51 The following delivery bodies will be key in implementing Policy EP5:

  • South Somerset District Council;
  • Developers and Landowners.
Monitoring Indicators Target
Number of farm holdings in the District Retention of farm holdings through appropriate farm diversification schemes
Amount of land farmed across the District
Maintenance of number of agricultural based businesses in the District.
Maintenance and increase in land farmed in the District
1. Source - Defra Agriculture and Horticulture Survey, June 2010 [back]
2. 82,275 hectares in 2007 to 75,387 hectares in 2010 - Defra [back]
3. A hobby farm is a smallholding/small farm that is maintained without the expectation of being a primary source of income [back]
4. NPPF March 2012 [back]
5. NPPF March 2012 [back]