Battling barn conversion bureaucracy

It is supposed to be easier, in England, to get planning consent to create new homes out of agricultural buildings, even modern ones. But it may not always feel that way.

There are signs many local authorities are still putting high hurdles in the way of schemes. Recent research published in Planning reveals a picture they describe as showing that refusal rates remain stubbornly high. This is despite attempts by the government to relax planning rules with the intention of boosting the supply of new homes in rural areas.

The new rules were supposed to streamline the process, remove some of the uncertainty and lighten the burden on developers. Known as ‘prior approval’, the conversion is considered to be acceptable in principle, provided certain conditions are met and subject to the prior approval of certain details by the local district or unitary council. Given the usual difficulty in trying to secure planning permission for new homes in rural locations, the up-front acceptability in principle looks promising. However, many schemes are coming unstuck when the council say the scheme does not meet the conditions or they refuse to grant prior approval because of a problem with one of the details for which prior approval is required.

In part this may be down to council’s continuing to take a tough stance on anything that involves more homes in rural locations. In part it may also be down to a lack of appreciation by applicants and their agents of what is needed to meet the relevant conditions and to secure prior approval for the specified details. The most common reasons given by councils for refusing prior approval relate to location and siting, structural integrity, that the site was not last used for agriculture and curtilage related issues.

It is easier to get consent for a conversion than it used to be, but not every site and not every building will be suitable. To know if you have a good prospect and if so then how to navigate it with the minimum of fuss through the planning process requires you to do your home work, to prepare properly. Time to get some good town planning advice?

‘Barn conversions – the latest picture’, Planning, 3 November 2017, page 16