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Nick's thoughts on the recent changes in Barn Conversions and Planning Policy

Many of you will have heard about pending changes to the rules for barn conversions.

These were finally settled by the government a few days ago and come into force on April 6th 2014. The new rules are complex and it will take time to see what is going to be allowed, but our early (and quite heavily abbreviated) reading of the situation with barns is as follows. If a building was recently active as an agricultural building, then it is possible to convert up to 450 sq m of building (in any one farm) to a max of 3 houses, without planning permission.

You do have to get what is called ‘prior approval’ from the local authority in respect of five things. The first four are highways, noise, flooding and contamination; these are not too difficult to deal with, but will involve a quasi planning process. However, the Local Authority also have to be satisfied regarding whether the location or siting of the building makes it otherwise impractical or undesirable for the building to be converted to a house. It seems to us that this allows the Local Authority to fall back on all their usual planning objections to barn conversions, e.g. that the location is unsustainable, or the appearance is damaging to the environment, or whatever they care to come up with.

It’s early days yet, but my hunch is that we are not going to see a revolution, although the way it is interpreted may well vary with different authorities. It will be particularly interesting to see whether authorities such as Craven District Council, who have had a successful live/work barn conversion policy (on the grounds that live/work is sustainable), will move away from that.

One of the more adventurous notions in the document is that you are allowed to replace the walls of the building. This suggests that modern farm buildings can be rebuilt as stone houses. Assuming that the criteria which the Local Authority look at, such as the sustainability of the location, are met then the implication is that if you have a 450 sq m modern agricultural building, you can help yourself to up to 3 new houses - a bit of a lottery win for some! Please note that none of this applies in National Parks, AONBs, or Conservation Areas and the rules vary for agricultural tenancies. Incidentally, most of the above applies to converting small existing shops and offices to houses as well.

If you want help with all this, we can provide it, but don’t assume that the local authorities are going to be a push over.

You can contact Nick at

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