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Opportunities for farmers to convert buildings

Farmers and landowners will soon be able to convert barns into residential dwellings without having to obtain specific planning permission says commercial property agent Prop-Search.  In just the last couple of weeks, the Government has announced its proposals for the permitted development rights for change of use from agriculture to residential land.

The rules governing permitted development rights for agricultural buildings were changed in May last year, but after campaigning by the CLA, National Farmers Union and others, the rules are being relaxed further to allow residential conversions.

Ian Harman, a Director of Prop-Search, said: “As it stands, Class M of the General Permitted Development Order 1995 (GPDO) automatically grants planning permission (subject to certain conditions) to allow the use of an agricultural building to be changed to various alternative business uses, including, shops, offices, hotels and storage.”

“The important point to note is that the agricultural building must have been used solely for agricultural business purposes since 03 July 2012 to be able to benefit from the new provisions.  For agricultural buildings first brought into use after 03 July 2012, the new rights are not available until the building has been used for agriculture for a period of 10 years.  There are restrictions to ensure that the rights are not available where the floor space of the buildings, which have changed use, exceeds 500 sq m or the building is a listed building or scheduled monument.”

Another point to note is that the change must have the local planning authority’s prior approval, where the floor space of the building or buildings within the original agricultural unit exceeds 150 sq m, which seems to have the hallmarks of a planning application.  Up until now, the legislation has operated on the premise that the prior approval process is simply an opportunity for the council to control siting, design and external appearance - it is not an opportunity for the council to refuse consent for the construction of the building.

In contrast, the new rights under Class M adopt a prior approval process that allows the council to consider whether they have any concerns in respect of transport and highways impacts, noise impacts, contamination and flooding risks.  The council is entitled to refuse the prior approval application if they consider that any of these impacts are excessive.

Ian Harman adds: “Some councils are asking for financial contributions for generally permitted schemes under a Section 106 Agreement to mitigate traffic impacts.  The provisions allow the council to ask the landowner to set out his assessment of the impacts and how they are to be mitigated.  There is uncertainty about the lawfulness of a Section 106 Agreement where it is not directly related to the development, necessary to make it acceptable in planning terms, or fairly and reasonably related in scale and kind to the development.  This may see landowners appealing refusals of prior approval where the council has requested a Section 106 Agreement and any appeal decisions could act as important precedents.”

So far as residential use is concerned, the Government has now announced that agricultural buildings of up to 450 sq m may be eligible for conversion for up to a maximum of three dwellings.  However, a spokesman for the Government said that farmers would not be allowed to ‘demolish cow sheds or outbuildings’, only to convert or renovate them and these ‘permitted development’ changes will not apply in national parks, conservation areas or areas of outstanding natural beauty.

Ian Harman concludes: “Given the demand for homes in rural areas and the prospects of achieving a rental income, the proposed changes to permit conversion to dwellings, together with the changes to commercial uses introduced last year, could represent a significant opportunity for land owners and developers.”

Further information or advice can be obtained from Prop-Search - Tel: 01604 492000 / 01933 223300 or its website:

Tuesday, May 13, 2014