02/04/14 Beyond The Barn - New rules make agricultural conversions easier

New planning rules which come into effect this month will make it easier for farmers to convert redundant agricultural buildings into homes, according to Smiths Gore, the Kings Hill-based chartered surveyors and property consultants.

As of Sunday, April 6, the General Permitted Development Order that allows disused buildings to be converted to residential use without the need for a more formal planning application is being extended to include farm buildings.

Buildings with a floor space of up to 450m2 that were in agricultural use on March 20, 2013, can now be converted into a maximum of three homes. Full planning permission will no longer be required, although schemes will require prior approval from the local planning authority.

"Changes to Permitted Development is fantastic news for farmers, property owners and developers who are able to explore conversion as a means of making buildings more economically viable," said Michael Wooldridge of Smiths Gore.

"Whilst an application for prior approval will need to be made to assess whether there will be any significant impacts on the local area, such as increased traffic, noise, and risk of flooding, the amended regulations simplify the planning process significantly and open the door to alternative uses.

"Local authorities will still be able to exercise some control over prior approval applications, although the new legislation provides a standard whereby applications can only be refused where the proposed changes are impractical, it will be interesting to see how planning authorities apply these, particularly in relation to location and siting."

The new rules do not apply to buildings that fall within Conservation Areas, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, or Sites of Special Scientific Interest, safety hazard areas or areas used for military explosives storage, where a full planning application will still be required.

"Even for those areas excluded from the new regulations, the Department for Communities and Local Government report (Greater flexibilities for change of use; Report on responses to the consultation, March 2014), which was issued alongside the new regulations, directs local councils to take a positive and proactive approach to sustainable development," Michael added.

For applications within Conservation Areas and the like, the new guidelines suggest that planning consent will be forthcoming where the protection of the environment and landscape is in harmony with the social and economic wellbeing of the area.

"In such cases demonstrating the viability of any scheme will be key," said Michael. "Those looking to submit applications should consider the impact of any conversion on the local area, as well as the value of the competed scheme compared with the cost of conversion and the value of the premises as it stands."

Lee Scott, Head of Planning in the South East for Smiths Gore said: "These new permitted development rights have taken some time to come to fruition and some doubted that they would ever be introduced.

"It is heartening to see the Government support the provision of much needed housing in rural areas.

"The regulations are, however, quite complex and open to interpretation, and it will still be necessary for farmers, landowners and developers to seek detailed advice on how to navigate the new system."

To find out more about the recent and forthcoming changes to the General Permitted Development Order, contact Lee Scott on 01798 345980 or Michael Wooldridge on 01732 879050.