Opportunities associated with change of use under PDR for farm buildings

By Catherine Pollard, Principal Planner, Boyer (part of Leaders Romans Group)

There has been much barn conversion activity in recent years perhaps as a result of the change in farming methods making more barns redundant, but also an increase in demand for character rural housing. Refurbishing old farm buildings may not be cheaper than building new but the resultant homes command a high premium on the open market due to the uniqueness of the accommodation, inbuilt character and rural location.

In many cases barns and other agricultural buildings can be converted using permitted development rights under Class Q for residential or Class R for commercial uses.

However, there are a number of restrictions, including demonstrating that the building has been used for agricultural purposes within the last decade, the extent of structural changes required, if the site is located in a sensitive area such as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, or of the buildings are listed. In these cases planning permission is required, and with often more complex issues to deal with, it is important to take professional advice from the outset.

In June this year, the Government published a policy paper Unleashing Rural Opportunity, which pledges to unlock “a new pipeline of rural housing” by streamlining the planning process to make it easier for farmers to transform redundant agricultural buildings into family homes. The report suggests that a consultation will be launched shortly on possible changes to the permitted development rights, making them more flexible for farmers with the potential for a “more generous threshold” to make their existing agricultural buildings more productive and grow the rural economy.

The policy paper is certainly a step in the right direction in supporting the rural economy and making use of the buildings we already have. However without the level of detail to support these principle objectives it’s hard to know how this will all play out in practice.

The consultation on these additional flexibilities ended in September. In terms of Class Q and changes to residential use the Government raised questions regarding the size limits, whether PD should apply to buildings no longer part of an agricultural unit, and whether it should be applied to other rural uses such as forestry or equestrian rather than purely agricultural. These are all positive approaches to support the delivery of new homes in rural communities and we look forward to the results of the consultation.

Catherine is a Chartered Planner based in Boyer’s Colchester office. View her profile here.

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