Proposals to relax planning rules to allow farmers to convert redundant farm buildings into homes could trigger a new wave of barn conversions across the West.

Rural property specialists at Bruton Knowles said the Government had already eased restrictions on converting redundant outbuildings to other uses including shops and offices.

Now the Department for Communities and Local Government is proposing to allow conversions of empty farm buildings into homes without the need for planning permission.

Rural affairs specialist Thomas Price from Bruton Knowles’ Gloucester office said: “Farmers across the West Country have welcomed the proposals as they believe the rule change could unlock further opportunities for rural businesses.

“Modern requirements for housing and milking cattle along with changes to farming practices have made many agricultural buildings and barns redundant and farmers are understandably keen to unlock the potential they may have sitting in under-utilised agricultural premises.

“But media reports forecasting a complete free for all are typically wide of the mark as the proposed relaxation of planning regulations will certainly not give farmers carte blanche to do what they want.”

Thomas said ministers are proposing that up to three additional dwellings (which could include flats) could be converted on an agricultural unit which already existed on 20 March 2013 with an upper limit of 150 sq m for each dwelling.

He added: “Converting buildings from agricultural to residential use is likely to need some external alterations and the government recognises that for this permitted development right to be effective it should also include provision for some limited physical development.

“This would even extend ‘where appropriate’ to the demolition and rebuilding of the property on the same footprint.”

However Thomas warned: “There are a few hoops to jump through as prior approval for siting and design would be required to ensure that the physical development complies with local plan policies on design, materials and outlook.

“There would also be a requirement for prior approval in respect of transport and highways impact, noise impact, contamination and flooding risks to ensure that the change of use takes place only in ‘sustainable’ locations.

“It’s clear relaxing permitted development could have important implications for farmers as there will be great scope for the development of under-used rural buildings to bring them back into a meaningful and profitable use.”

A recent NFU survey has revealed many are keen to make use of the proposed changes.

Thomas concluded: “If the proposals are accepted farmers will still need to get specialist advice to ensure any development they undertake falls within the new framework.”

Bruton Knowles is a national property consultancy with twelve offices across the UK in Gloucester, Birmingham, Bristol, Nottingham, Leeds, Shrewsbury, Northallerton, Cardiff, Guildford, Taunton, Manchester and London. Established over 150 years ago, Bruton Knowles is a multi-disciplinary consultancy offering clients a range of skills including building consultancy, compulsory purchase and compensation, estate strategy, agency and development consultancy, professional skills such as valuation, lease renewals, rent reviews and rating, as well as property management across the full spectrum of urban and rural property.

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Source: Empica on behalf of Bruton Knowles