2013-03-27 xml
U-Turn on Planning is Good News for Rural Property Owners

“The Government’s desperation to get the building industry moving again after five years in the doldrums, has meant that we are seeing yet another u-turn on planning reforms and this could be good news for agricultural property owners,” says Neil Henderson, Senior Planner at H&H Land and Property.

Here he looks at the proposed changes and what they may mean to those looking to convert unused farm buildings to other uses including residential homes.

Neil Henderson

Neil Henderson

Just weeks after resurrecting a plan to legislate to permit offices to be converted to houses or flats, having previously announced that they would not be proceeding, the Chancellor’s Budget statement indicated that the government will also now consult on "allowing further flexibilities between use classes to support change of use from certain agricultural and retail uses to residential use to increase responsiveness within the planning system".

As recently as February, Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, had announced the intention to allow change of use to agricultural buildings but specifically ruling out this change of use to include residential dwellings.

However, if the statement released on March 21st is to be believed, a change of heart has taken place. The Department for Communities and Local Government said: "Today's Budget … included planning proposals to secure the long-term future of high streets, by making better use of empty buildings and bringing people back to live in town centres, increasing footfall and supporting shops.

Other measures will enable rural communities to grow by ensuring better use is made of their existing buildings. By reducing planning burdens, redundant and empty barns and other farm buildings that are no longer viable for other farming or commercial uses could be converted to homes. This will help increase rural housing for local people and promote regeneration of redundant and empty buildings."

It should be highlighted that the changes are only a proposal at this stage. It remains to be seen when the Government will act, and what restrictions would be incorporated within the legislation. It is likely that only the change of use of a building will be permitted; this would not cover work which affects the external appearance of the property, such as new windows, outside doors or n extensions. All changes will still have to comply with Building Regulations which could limit the suitability of buildings for residential use, so any plans for conversions need careful consideration.

Neil concludes, "If the legal changes hinted at do take place then it will have significant implications for landowners and farmers with disused traditional agricultural buildings on their property. Many local councils currently have policies which, while allowing conversion of buildings in the countryside to business uses, prevent conversion to residential use. It is hard to see how those policies can be sustained if the reforms go through. Even where applications have previously been refused, a change in policy and legislation may mean similar proposals might now become acceptable. I would advise property owners to keep a keen eye on how the Government proceeds and to take planning advice if they wish to proceed with a barn conversion development.”

HH Land

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