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The word diversification conjures up the usual long-established suspects such as business units, horses, holiday cottages and glamping. The reason they remain popular is that they are tried and tested, familiar to planning authorities and ‘safe’ for the most part. For anyone contemplating diversification of these types of businesses the list of considerations for planning is fairly obvious: access, impact on the landscape especially in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), the presence of habitat for protected species and the need for mitigation. If conversion is proposed, the main consideration is whether or not the building is reasonably sound. The more obscure limitations are the proximity to ancient woodland (now a planning Holy Grail), flood risk and, on occasion, contamination. Impact on the setting of listed buildings and scheduled monuments should be taken into account, too. A sound business plan is also useful and will be required where grant aid is being requested. Diversification is hard work, and where capital is needed there is always the restriction of the lending sector. Having said that, a friend’s parents gave him the deposit for a house which he promptly invested in developing a very successful shooting ground; finance can come from other sources, such as Folk to Folk. Glamping in all its forms is fun. Clients of The Rural Planning Practice offer various types of glamping accommodation including repurposed old-fashioned Oakley type horse boxes, buses and even Pink Floyd’s former road home. Glamping can be enhanced by other ‘added value’ activities and products including a catering service, foraging for food, a cookery school or ‘adventures’ such as quad biking. In a post Covid-19 world, the opportunity to meet face to face and enjoy ‘experiences’ will be greatly valued. People are also realising that a small but beautiful wedding or party can be very special, opening the way for small but unique venues. Post Brexit, as we are discovering, exporting


WILL BRING ENHANCED INCOME cheese to Europe is hard work. Having said that, we have an expanding domestic market for local produce; for example, the Cornish Box Company and the Jurassic Meat Company in Dorset, which will deliver to you that taste of the south west. The burgeoning wine industry in the South East and beyond is yet another opportunity. One cannot fail to be impressed with the enterprise developed at Tillingham, near Peasmarsh, where a hotel and vineyard were developed around a very ordinary set of traditional farm buildings. It has successfully turned itself into a destination. On the horse front there is a large market for riders seeking to ride ‘off road’. I was impressed by a farm in the Chilterns which provides parking and clearly waymarked routes for day visitors with their horses, and space for camping or glamping for those wanting to stay longer. Other clients are developing competition venues. I am currently working on two worthwhile projects for people with learning disabilities. One project is a ‘care farm’ where participants are taught horticulture and animal husbandry, which brings all sorts of other benefits including that all important self-confidence. Care farms can be made to work with more conventional farming set ups and are a way of achieving a modest diversification income with a worthwhile outcome.

Photo: ©Martin Apps

With the new mantra of ‘public money for public goods’ comes a growing understanding of what is called ‘natural capital’ and biodiversity offsetting. Natural capital is what it says on the tin; your farm, its woodland and waterbodies; all have the capacity to add to biodiversity. The use of land to develop habitat and for translocation of species requires commitment to that land use, but with more and more areas being taken for development, developers are seeking landowners willing to help. Development of housing or for business has to be a very productive diversified use of land but is clearly not reversible. If you have land reasonably close to civilisation you need to ensure it is promoted as part of the ongoing search for sites that every authority is duty bound to carry out. As we are all aware, sites that even ten years ago would have been out of the question are now built over. The demand for affordable housing is unmet and rural exception sites can bring enhanced land values. There is also the option of ‘build to rent’. Diversification in all its forms will hopefully bring enhanced income, some personal satisfaction and even amusement for those involved. It is also likely to bring pleasure, perhaps with better understanding of the countryside, to an increasingly urban population that does not have the privilege of living in the rural environment that so many of us hold dear. > Tillingham


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