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OPINION: Hugh Townsend advises that if you want to convert barns, get in fast

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: March 19, 2014

OPINION: Hugh Townsend advises that if you want to convert barns, get in fast
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The Government intention to introduce new permitted development rights in England to allow the change of use of agricultural buildings for up to three dwellings has now been confirmed, but remains subject to the passing of the Statutory Instrument – the “devil is always in the detail”.

In the 2013 Budget Statement the Government announced its consultation on allowing further flexibility between use classes. These were in addition to the May 30 2013 package. This ‘relaxation’ of the planning policy strongly supports the key government priorities for making better use of existing buildings, supporting rural communities and providing new housing.

The regulations, which are proposed to come into effect from April 6 2014, will allow the change of use from agricultural barns (it appears at the moment both of traditional and modern construction – with a cumulative floorspace limit of up to 450m2) for up to three dwellings. The barns must however be “redundant or under-used” and have been used solely for agriculture on the March 20 2013 to be eligible. Where the barn was brought into use after this date, it must have been in agricultural use for more than ten years before the rights can be used.

The consultation documents also propose a limit of 150m2 per dwelling. A prior approval is required for the siting and design, highways, noise, land contamination and flood risk and the new right applies to all agricultural holdings, regardless of size.

It is assumed that the regulations will cover the change of use of the barn, together with the necessary building works as long as the converted building does not extend beyond the external dimensions of the barns being converted, with partial, but not complete demolition allowed.

The ‘new’ rights cannot be used if the agricultural permitted development rights have been used since the 20th March 2013 for the construction or extension of agricultural buildings. Similarly, once the ‘new’ rights have been used, to convert a barn into a dwelling, the applicant will not be able to benefit from any permitted development rights again for a period of ten years. This will include construction and/or extension of agricultural buildings, for which full planning permission will be needed.

Also, where a holding is let under an agricultural tenancy the consent of both parties (landlord & tenant) will be required. If the tenancy is then terminated for the purpose of carrying out the conversion, i.e. the landlord wishes to remove the building from the tenancy, a period of at least twelve months must expire unless both the landlord and the tenant agree that the building was not required for the purposes of agriculture. This is important to note, as co-operation between the landlord and tenant becomes essential.

The ‘new’ permitted development rights will not be available in National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, conservation Areas, the Broads, World Heritage Sites, SSSI’s safety hazard areas or military explosive storage areas, as well as buildings associated or within the curtilage of a listed building or sites that contain a scheduled monument.

An applicant will be required to first apply to their Local Planning Authority.

The rights provide another tool for agricultural land owners to maximise the value of their assets. However those who are interested will have to act quickly as it is suggested that this ‘relaxation’ may only be available for a limited period.

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