How easy is it to do a barn conversion?

Question: My friends and I have spotted a large disused barn in the green belt near the outskirts of a village in Bedfordshire. It has direct access to the nearby road and there is a railway station only 10 minutes’ walk away.

We think it would make a wonderful self-build project but only if we are able to get planning permission. Is there anything that we should consider before embarking on what would be a big project for us?

Answer: In an effort to boost the supply of homes in rural areas, particularly smaller and more affordable properties, the Government last year amended the rights under Class Q of the General Permitted Development Order (2015) to allow the conversion, of an agricultural building with a maximum floorspace of 465 square metres to one of the following: three large houses with a maximum cumulative floorspace of 465sq m; five smaller houses, each with a maximum floorspace of 100sq m, or thirdly, a mix of large and small houses with a maximum of three large houses.

Further amendments to the order were made this year, clarifying the maximum floorspace limit of 465sq m for any house.

National Statistics for England show that from April 2014 through to December last year, 41 per cent of Notification for Prior Approval, or NPA applications, involving conversions of agricultural buildings to a residential use were refused.

That trend stands in stark contrast to the refusal rates for other types of NPA applications considered during the same period.

For example, only 28 per cent of applications involving the conversion of shops to residential use were refused, 21 per cent in the case of office to residential, while a mere 17 per cent of applications for larger household extensions got turned down.

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The latter statistic is particularly revealing given that NPA applications for larger household extensions are also subject to a neighbour consultation, which might encourage objections.

While the aim of Part Three of the General Permitted Development Order is to increase the level and pace of housing delivery, applications outside built-up areas face far more scrutiny, with some cases ending up at High Court.

NPAs have fewer prescriptive requirements than full or outline planning applications.

However, councils may consider whether the conversion would lead to unacceptable impacts in relation to: transport and highways; contamination; flooding; noise, and design and appearance.

Applications involving conversions from agricultural to residential use must also consider whether structural works are required to make the building habitable, whether those works amount to a “rebuild” as opposed to a “conversion” and, finally, location.

These last two considerations have been the most frequent reasons for refusal.

A structural assessment should be able to corroborate the claim that you’ll be converting the barn rather than rebuilding it.

Location and siting considerations are a point of far more dispute.

You’ll need to ensure the location is sustainable, ideally near other properties, has good transport links and services and is not too isolated.

And the building shouldn’t be in a conservation area, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a National Park or a Site of Special Scientific Interest, or be listed.

Selwyn Atkinson MRTPI is an associate town planner at Ingleton Wood LLP.



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