Good news for barn conversions

Tom Woof
Tom Woof
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The new changes to planning rules could make it easier for farmers to get planning permission for barn conversions.

The Government is speeding up its changes to the planning system by radically changing the way barn conversions will be considered by councils.

This is the message form Tom Woof, newly-appointed head of planning at H&H Land and Property North East and Durham.

From April 6, barn conversions outside National Parks and AONBs are now being considered under the prior notification process, also known as ‘planning permission lite’. This means that councils can only consider these proposals in respect to whether prior approval is required for transport and highway impacts, noise, contamination, flood risk, and whether the location or siting of the building makes it otherwise impractical or undesirable for the building to change from agricultural use to a dwelling house.

At this stage, the regulations are untested so it is not known how each council will interpret them. However, when the new regulations were published, the Planning Minister Nick Boles said: “These reforms will make better use of redundant or under-used agricultural buildings, increasing rural housing without building on the countryside. Up to 450 square meters of agricultural buildings on a farm will be able to change to provide a maximum of three houses.”

This suggests that they are intended to apply on a farm-by-farm basis and the issues of practicality and desirability are in relation to the particular farm, not the wider strategic framework.

The existing permitted development (PD) rights remain for farmers who want to erect new sheds or other necessary on-farm developments. However, using some of these rights could affect the ability to convert barns to housing in the future.

Mr Woof said: “Many types of development on farms are ‘permitted development’ because they are ‘reasonably necessary for the purposes of agriculture’. However, there are size limits for these permitted development rights (PD rights) and they will depend on the size of the farming unit and if any other PD rights have been exercised. Large, modern sheds over 465m2 will always require consent.

“There are also PD rights to cover the installation of micro-scale renewable energy projects such as roof mounted solar energy on houses or commercial buildings subject to certain conditions.

“However, most renewable energy projects of any significant size will require planning permission. Renewable energy projects such as wind turbines, solar power or anaerobic digestion also need planning permission even if they are for the purposes of the farm.”

That also applies to tourism diversification, such as camping and caravan sites, unless they are very small or only for temporary use.

In addition to on-farm projects, the new direction for planning is aimed at streamlining the process and making it more responsive to local needs.

The Localism Act has made it possible for communities, particularly parished rural communities to set their planning policies which could help individuals convert barns or build new highly efficient housing. This is known as neighbourhood planning and will be a key part of the new planning system.

Although the new regulations are designed to ease the planning process, the rules for listed buildings and conservation areas are now stricter. They are now classed as ‘heritage assets’ and any development which could potentially affect them will be thoroughly assessed during the planning process.

Mr Woof said: “There a number of benefits for farmers, individuals and communities in the latest updates to the planning regulations, but as ever, the devil is in the detail. It is always best to seek advice on how the new rules will impact what you want to do before pressing ahead with a conversion or development.

“In some cases, your proposals may be easier to put into action, but where you live and the size of your planned development will obviously be an important factor.”