The launch of the new permitted development rules in May 2014 appeared to pave the way for a wealth of conversions of agricultural buildings into dwellings. The scant details in the legislation and the seemingly open approach for new residential properties in the countryside appeared to be a huge positive for the rural landowner. However, as ever, the devil is always in the detail and more importantly the interpretation of the Local Planning Authority, the planning process a little trickier than first imagined.

The straightforward bit…

The clear rules are details in the legislation and can be posed as yes/no questions where the wrong answer is fatal, i.e. was the barn used for agricultural purposes on 20th March 2013, is the development less than 450 sq m etc. We know how to deal with these questions and can provide robust responses to provide encouragement for those looking to apply.

 It starts to get tricky…

The slightly wishy washy rules of the scheme are the headings of the statutory issues:

  • Flood
  • Highways
  • Noise
  • Contamination

Each of these issues can be referred to the appropriate consultee and assessed against National Planning Policy. This section of the legislation also allows the planning officer to consider the location or siting of the building to ensure the conversion would be practical and desirable, again this matter is judged against the National Planning Policy Framework and can be used by the Planning Authority refuse inappropriate development. These topics must be thoroughly assessed when considering converting a barn using these rules.

The silence says the most…

The biggest downfall of this legislation is the areas where the rules are completely silent. This is challenging for the developer, the planning consultant and the planning authority. The legislation mentions nothing about ecology assessments or Priority species, however as it is illegal to destroy a habitat of a priority species a planning officer will not grant a consent if they have any concerns that the building may be a suitable bat roosting site, for example.  The building operations allowed within this development are another grey area as the legislation allows partial demolition, replacement and installation of windows doors, roofs and exterior walls, but the development must be a conversion rather than a demolition and rebuild.

The final key point that is somewhat overlooked in the legislation is that overarching feature that these rules are for the conversion of barns rather than the demolition and rebuild, therefore the building must be capable of conversion and this must be clearly demonstrated to the Planning Authority. Past experience shows any ambiguity in a permitted development application will result in the Planning Authority calling in the application for a full application to confirm on the detail.

Should I develop…

With all that in mind it is clear (perhaps the only clear thing) that the new permitted development rules do not make planning easy but they have created an opportunity that did not exist prior to May 2014. It is likely that when these rules end in May 2017, or earlier if there is a change in government, there will be a rationalisation and reduction of all the permitted development rules.

If you have been considering any development on your property, now is the time to have a go!