Surge in rural home conversions

On behalf of Attwaters Jameson Hill posted in Planning Law on Friday, November 15th, 2019

Data from the Local Government Association (LGA) has revealed a big rise in the number of old farm buildings, particularly barns, being converted into single or multiple homes. A threefold rise since 2015 has brought more much-needed homes to the countryside and a useful long-term future for many historic and attractive structures.

Looking back, the increased industrialisation of agriculture during the twentieth century led to barns and other farm buildings being superseded by storage silos and steel-framed structures. Many historic timber-framed buildings became dilapidated. By the 1970s there was growing interest in converting them into homes, perhaps to release capital or maybe house a farming family’s next generation.

The Long Barn at Aldham and the thatched Eldred Barn at Stanway were two traditional Essex barns converted by the 1980s, and similar examples were to be found across rural Hertfordshire. Planning permission was not always easily obtained, but specialist property lawyers were often able to aid the process. Since then, hundreds of farm buildings in Essex and Herts have been converted.

According to LGA analysis, a key factor driving this surge in the conversion of old barns, stables and even pigsties in the last few years has been the ‘permitted development right’ introduced in 2014 to help ease the nation’s housing shortage. This right enables certain types of property extension or conversion to be undertaken without the need for a full planning application, though council planners still assess the environmental, infrastructural, aesthetic and suitability aspects of any proposal.

Last year, the permitted development right was widened to allow up to five new homes (previously three) to be created from a single farm building, with the result that conversions doubled year-on-year. The LGA says it would really like all conversions to be subject to full planning permission and possibly require owner-developers to make ‘Section 106’ contributions to improve local roads, schools and other community services.

With the most desirable single-residence converted barns fetching prices well into the seven figures, reviving redundant farm buildings in this way will continue to be an attractive proposition for owners. Finding out whether or not a rural conversion proposal qualifies as a permitted development or requires full planning permission is crucial, so advice from specialist planning and conveyancing solicitors should always be sought ahead of committing to proceed.

One further point to consider is that when applications are made for houses on farmland, they are often allowed provided they will be occupied by those working on the farm. If such a condition has been breached and the property occupied for more than 10 years by non-farm-workers, it is possible to make an application to remove the condition and sell the house on the open market.


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