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Permitted development rights for barns: conversion or confusion?

25 February 2015

In April 2014 there was great excitement amongst rural landowners about the introduction of new permitted development rights to convert barns to residential use without planning permission. It was anticipated that this would provide a way round the countryside planning policies that normally restrain such development.

But figures released after the first six months showed that more than half of the applications submitted to planning authorities for prior approval for such conversions had been refused; further, many refusals are being upheld at appeal. 

The figures are in stark contrast to the prior approval applications for office to residential permitted development rights. We look at some of the more common reasons for refusal below.

Non agricultural use

The building to be converted must have been used solely for an agricultural use, as part of an agricultural unit, on 20 March 2013. Unsurprisingly, a building in Devon with a bathroom, skirting boards, numerous electricity sockets and French doors was found by an Inspector on appeal to have been in non-agricultural use!

The extent of  the curtilage

The curtilage of the converted unit should be no larger than the floor area of the agricultural building itself. Planning authorities advise that this is one of the most common reasons for refusal. A proposed conversion in Devon fell foul of this limitation and was refused on appeal.

The Inspector determined that he had no powers to impose a condition restricting the extent of the curtilage, despite the appellant’s request. It is important to ensure that applications comply with the limitations imposed from the outset.

Number of dwellings

The Order permits a change to residential use for up to three dwellings. In an appeal against a refusal in Somerset,  the appellant, relying upon a consultation document published before the rights were brought in, tried to claim that three dwellings were permitted in addition to any other dwellings on the agricultural unit.

The Inspector ruled that the wording of the Order imposed a limit of three dwellings, which was a cumulative total of all dwellings on the agricultural unit - not three additional dwellings.

Conversion considered to  be not “desirable”?

Possibly the most troubling trend is the refusal of applications by planning authorities on the grounds that the conversion is either not practical or not desirable. 

In a recent appeal in West Oxfordshire, the Inspector ruled that a proposed conversion sited 1km from the nearest settlement was not ‘desirable’ due to its remote location. He considered it to be creating an isolated dwelling in the countryside.

In another appeal against refusal of a conversion in the open countryside in Dorset, the Inspector decided it was ‘undesirable’ to grant prior approval because of the impact of the associated vehicle movements and parking beyond the defined curtilage.

Such cases have sparked debate as to whether the decision maker is entitled to take account of all parts of the NPPF in determining the issues of practicality and desirability. The concern is that, of course, most such conversions will, by their very nature, be in locations outside settlements.

Planning authorities will often have justification for refusal on the grounds that the scheme is contrary to paragraph 55 of NPPF, which advises that planning authorities should avoid new isolated homes in the countryside unless there are special circumstances.

The government will need to revisit the detailed wording of the right or provide further guidance if the policy of permitting such conversions is to achieve its aim of making a significant contribution to rural housing supply.

This article was written by Anne Bennett.

For more information contact Anne on +44 (0)1242 246303 or anne.bennett@crsblaw.com