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We are currently offering a NO Win No Fee Option on barn conversion enquiries, so Contact us to see how we can help you.
“May I take this opportunity to thank you and the team at AFA Planning Consultants and in particular Chris who dealt with the application for my barn conversion under class Q. The first class professional service which I have received has been outstanding every step of the way and you have managed to succeed in securing a positive outcome. As you are aware this is not the first time I have applied for permission on this barn and you have succeeded where others have failed. I would have no hesitation in recommending AFA planning Consultants”. Mr. Deacon, Shaftesbury, Dorset.
Convert Farm Buildings Under Prior Approval
Some farmers are being very quick off the mark to take advantage of the astonishing opportunities that now exist to convert ordinary agricultural barns and sheds to as many as 3 new dwellings. The barns do not even have to be redundant or of historic significance, nor are there any agricultural ties involved.
The increase in value can be very significant when the barns are put on the open housing market or even offered for sale un-converted but with the approvals in place. One high-end converted Dutch barn was recently on the market for nearly £2 million.
Once the principle is approved by the Council a quick and substantial profit can be made by putting the barn on the market in its unconverted state. The new owner would then submit their own detailed design for approval.
Our strategy at AFA Planning Consultants is to submit a case that the Council cannot refuse even if they want to. If there are any problems we aim to get them resolved first, then submit the application.
In addition, since early 2018 it may well now be possible to obtain planning permission for new houses on the basis that the conversion of barns has already been agreed. This follows a recent planning appeal where a planning inspector granted permission for a completely new house because the ‘fall-back position’ was that the barn could be converted anyway, therefore he saw no reason to refuse a new dwelling as an alternative to the barn conversion. There were other considerations and it is possible that this strategy will not always work, but often it is now a real option.
New Rules On Barn Conversions From Farm and Agricultural Buildings
Before 2014, barn conversions of newer ‘ordinary’ agricultural barns and sheds would very rarely have been allowed.
Now as from 6 April 2018, it’s possible to convert an agricultural barn or shed to as many as 5 new homes (5 being the maximum on a single farm). The new rules allow far more flexibility with the mix of sizes of new homes, plus the overall proportions allowed being far larger than was possible under the previous rules dating from 2014. The situation now is that up to 3 larger homes are allowed with a combined floor space of up to 465 sq. metres, alternatively up to 5 smaller homes can be allowed none of which are more than 100 sq. metres, but again with a combined floor space of no more than 465 sq. metres. Alternatively a flexible scheme is possible by converting the same buildings into a mix of smaller and larger homes.
This means that if the circumstances are correct, permitted development (PD) rights exist as to the principle of a barn conversion. The big point about PD here is that that you don’t need to get planning permission as such on the principle, and if the criteria are all met the planning authority (usually the Council) must agree even though they would not have given permission before the new rules came in.
All of this is comes under Class Q (formerly MB) of the General Permitted Development Order using the Prior Approval procedure. (For offices, shops, etc, see No:18 below).
Given the scope that is now available to convert a barn, it may be questioned just how long the Government will allow things to stay as they are.
What Are The Type Of Barns And Sheds That Can Be Converted?
The basic requirements are:
- The building must have been solely in agricultural use on 20 March 2013; (it doesn’t matter what the use was after that), or if it was not in use at all on that date, its previous use must have been for agriculture.
- The building must be part of an established agricultural unit.
- Maximum floor space – 465 sq. metres. This means the cumulative floor space of the existing building or buildings allowed for conversion within the whole of the agricultural unit. Farmers therefore with a range of barns and options need to consider carefully which ones they put forward as there are definite limits.
- There are some other special rules including where there is a tenancy involved.
- If you have used other permitted development rights recently on the farm, you may not be able to use the new rules to get a barn converted to a dwelling.
The first question the Council will ask is – Are we sure this is a building and land used for agricultural purposes during the last 10 years? So evidence would be required if possible e.g. photo’s, delivery receipts, or even a sworn affidavit.
Further Note on Barn Conversions:
(i) The barn does not have to be redundant, it could still be in use for agriculture.
(ii) Open sided barns, such as many Dutch barns, do qualify for converting into a barn under the new rules; obviously, the finished item would have the sides filled in as necessary.
(iii) If you failed under the old rules even on appeal, it may well be worth trying again as the ability of councils to refuse has now been severely restricted.
Below Shows Big Potential But No More Than 3 Dwellings Allowed
1: How does it work?
The procedure is called Prior Approval and there are two stages. Using AFA Planning Consultants right from the start any potential hurdles can be addressed and a convincing case will be put forward.
– The first stage to a barn conversion is for us to notify the Council that a change of use is proposed. The council can then decide in principle whether the barn conversion would be permitted development under Class Q(a). It is often best to get this stage sorted first before spending money on architect’s fees. If the Council don’t agree that the new rules apply, there’s no point in using an architect. If you want to speed things up, then everything can be submitted simultaneously and we can provide the necessary architectural drawings for that.
– The second stage to a barn conversion which is only possible if the principle as above has been agreed, is to seek their further agreement to the actual proposed design and external appearance of the conversion; this is under Class Q(b). This is the stage where you definitely do need decent architectural input and our architectural design team and our planners would work very closely in order to ensure that the scheme is acceptable to the Council. The proposals can fail at any stage which is why you really need a planning expert, not just an architect to deal with the Council’s own planners.
In stage two the Council can only assess the proposal on:
• Transport, highways and noise impact
• Contamination and flooding risks
• Design and external appearance of the existing building
• Whether the location or siting of the building makes it otherwise impractical or undesirable for the building to change from agricultural use to a dwelling.
All of the above offer scope for the proposal to be stopped especially the last item which can be very tricky as it amounts to a ‘catch all’. So conversions are likely to get refused if for example they are close to un-neighbourly on-going farm operations such as intensive livestock buildings or noisy machinery such as grain dryers. However rearranging the overall farm layout including demolition in advance could be the way forward as the Council has no control over agricultural operations. (But see No. 10)
Again these are areas where it is so important to have a chartered planner on your side right from the beginning of stage one, someone who knows all the rules including recent appeal decisions and how they can be legitimately used to your best advantage.
The quick profit option: Some barn owners have simply gone for Prior Approval, Q(a) as per stage one and having got the principle agreed first, have then put the barn on the market leaving it for the new owners to sort out the detailed plan approval as per stage two. This way the new owners can create their own detailed plans and design, plus it gives the barn owner a very quick return. Unconverted barns with only the first stage in place have recently been on the market for £80K and £750K!
Note: If the Council ‘refuse’ any of the above, we can appeal to the Government’s independent Planning Inspectorate.
2: How Long Does It Take? What If The Council Don’t Make A Decision?
They only have 56 days to make their decision for Class Q(a) after that it benefits from ‘deemed consent’ for the conversion and any necessary building works provided they are within the scope of class Q.
3: Can Permission be given To Convert Separate Barns?
Yes, but no more than a total of five new Class Q dwellings allowed on the farm.
4: Where Do These Planning Rules Not Apply?
This prior approval procedure only applies in England and does not apply to areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), National Parks and Conservation Areas, where the site is or forms part of a listed building (including curtilage listed buildings), a scheduled monument, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a safety hazard area or a military explosives storage area. So if your barn is in one of these you would need ‘ordinary’ change of use permission.
Note: The new rules do apply to barns and sheds in the Green Belt.
5: Will It Still Have To Look Like An Agricultural Barn? What About Windows And Doors?
There is actually a lot of scope in the rules for alternative materials to give a less ‘industrial’ appearance so long as the overall form and size of the building remains the same.
Of course a good architect should be able to handle this and even conceive something stunning at least on the inside. After all the interior is likely to be a blank canvas opportunity often with lots of space to play with and none of the planning constraints that come with listed buildings or even older farm barns. Whilst the Council are unlikely to be too fussed about what the inside is like, the creation of a new floor is not included and could be a problem unless the barn already has a second floor. Different councils are taking different stances on this with some letting permissions through that other councils object to. So this again is why you need a planning expert, not just an architect on your side.
The rules do allow building operations which are reasonably necessary to convert the building to residential use but do not allow the external dimensions to extend beyond the original (but see No.9 below). The type of areas that are allowed are the installation or replacement of windows, timber windows, doors, roofs, or exterior walls, drainage, electricity, gas or other services, to the extent reasonably necessary for the building to function as a dwelling house as well as partial demolition to the extent reasonably necessary to carry out these building operations.
All of this offers a lot of scope for some significant rebuilding or replacement of the existing fabric such as asbestos cladding although wholesale demolition of the building and its entire replacement would not be allowed. It is unlikely that the new rules can be exploited to create homes out of glasshouses / orangeries although we do know of one such case that has been allowed and another where the ‘barn’ is just an old nissen hut!
6: How Detailed Do The Architectural Plans Have To Be?
There don’t have to be any architectural plans at all for stage one, which as we have said makes it a quicker turn around, but obviously they are essential for stage 2. Those plans would have to be sufficiently accurate and to scale and show all elevations proposed and existing.
7: Could It Be A Fairly New Barn?
If a building has been constructed and used in farming before 20th March 2013, then an application for a conversion can be made. If however the building was constructed after that date, then you’d need to wait 10 years before making the application.
8: What Does ‘Barn’ Really Mean? How About Redundant Grain Silos?
It has to be an agricultural building as opposed to a structure used in the farming industry, so silos would most probably get a ‘No’.
9: How Easy Would It Be To Get ‘Ordinary’ Planning Permission For An Extension On A Barn?
It’s possible but not always easy. It would depend on what is proposed; as a rule of thumb the more modest the proposal the better the chance, also this will vary from council to council.
10: If Successful, Would It Affect Normal Agricultural Permitted Development Or Where Necessary An Application For A New Agricultural Barn?
There are some special rules here and so it would be best for one of our planners to advise on your particular circumstances.
Unfortunately, exercising Class Q in respect of any building will suspend normal agricultural permitted development rights for a period of ten years from completion. This is an important consideration – you may wish to ensure you have adequate replacement facilities in place prior to submission of a notification under Class Q.
11: Could The Barn Be Falling Down?
It may currently look a mess, but it’s the building’s basic underlying structure that matters, so its main framework must be sufficiently robust for conversion to a habitable dwelling without the construction of new structural elements. In fact, the building does not even have to have full existing foundations or an existing concrete slab base so long as the foundations of the framework itself are in good shape. Some Council’s may need to be convinced about that as there are some ‘grey’ areas in the Regulations here, but that would be part of our service.
Research shows that many barn conversion proposals have failed because of structural weaknesses. This is again an aspect why getting AFA Planning Consultants on board at a very early stage is the best idea. We are aware of ways to solve the problem.
12: Is A Barn Conversion Still Possible At A Remote Or ‘Unsustainable’ Location?
Until recently many councils were refusing prior approvals because the conversions were in ‘undesirable locations’ which the councils took to mean isolated and therefore environmentally unsustainable places due to distance from services. etc. However, the Government has now clarified this by making clear that the new rules should not be interpreted in this way and that ‘undesirable’ and ‘impractical’ has more to do with being difficult to access by road or close to an area where its quality of amenity would be so poor due to adverse environmental effects (i.e. noise, smells etc). So, a remote or isolated location is not now automatically ruled out.
13: What About A Site With Contamination Or Flooding?
If this may be an issue it is good practice to submit some details about it at stage one to demonstrate that there are no concerns in this respect and thus prevent the Council being able to refuse consent due to “lack of information” (which is another frequent reason for refusal). Similarly if the barn is in flood zones 2 or 3 you will need to submit a site specific flood risk assessment upfront to demonstrate that either the risk of flooding would be low or that it can be mitigated in some way.
Again, AFA Planning Consultants will know what is needed and how to submit the relevant details.
14: How Small Could The Barn Be To Convert?
There isn’t a lower limit however it must be at least a 1 bed unit otherwise it would be “impractical or undesirable”. It must also have some kind of curtilage and outlook, space for bins, etc.
15: If Successful Would It Have An Agricultural Occupancy Condition? And What About A Section 106?
Although it is quite rare, some council’s impose agricultural occupancy conditions where they consider it necessary due to such things as the close proximity of other farm building which are still used for animals and this may also be done via a S. 106. Also Section 106’s are not unknown dealing with other matters for example if the proposal is captured by the Council’s Community Infrastructure Levy. Again this is an area where it really pays to have one of our chartered town planners on your side, someone who knows when and how to challenge the Council.
16: What About Rural Barns That Are Not Agricultural Or Do Not Qualify?
It is still possible to get ‘ordinary’ planning permission to convert other barns in the countryside into homes. The ‘rule of thumb’ is that the barn concerned must be structurally sound and is either of some architectural, historic or landscape merit.
17: Garden And Parking Space?
Basically this must be no more than the curtilage of the building, which may be quite generous and provide a great garden area and parking.
But if the curtilage is very limited, garden land and parking can be a real problem so again your best plan is to have one of our chartered town planners who really knows the rules to argue your case.
Our planning professional will know more of the finer details of the rules which can be legitimately used to your advantage. For example the rules do make some provision for the inclusion of extra land not actually in the building’s curtilage, basically so long as the land is no larger than the area occupied by the building and where that land is immediately beside or around it.
There may be other solutions where outside space is very tight. One possibility could be to include a suitable area of extra land around the barn in the sale.
18: Can The Barns Be Used For Other Uses?
Yes, there are other rules (Class R) which also allow agricultural buildings under 500 sq. m. to change to a flexible commercial use, i.e. A1 (retail), A2 (financial and professional services), A3 (café), B1 (business), B8 (storage and distribution), C1 (hotels) or D2 (assembly and leisure) uses, as well as schools and nurseries. This is subject to meeting similar criteria for conversion to homes for uses over 150 sq. m.
In all cases these agricultural buildings must have been in agricultural use at the 20 March 2013 or in agricultural use when it was last used if before that date.
But again the rules are complex and you are best advised to have one of our chartered town planners on your case.
19: Final Words Of Advice On Barn Conversions?
There is so much more which is why you would need a proper planning consultant on the case. However, here are three final points:
(i) If you are about to sell your farm, remember to factor in the potential value of buildings which could are suitable for a barn conversion. Would you be happy for the new owner to do what you could have done before selling up? Why not get the Class Q(a) approval in place first, then put the farm on the market?
(ii) Don’t start any of the work before the necessary approvals are in place. If you do, you may compromise the ‘agricultural use’ and the Council are likely to say that the new rules don’t apply therefore you need normal full planning permission which is a more onerous process altogether indeed one which is extremely unlikely to succeed for a modern agricultural building.
(iii) If your conversion relates to a building that originally had planning permission, check that permission for any restrictive conditions. For example there may be a condition which states that the building can only be used for agricultural purposes or preventing other uses such as dwellings. If this is the case you may need to get that lifted before going for the prior approval.
If you are a farmer that wants to consider this new opportunity to convert agricultural buildings into residential dwellings without traditional planning permission, then contact us to discuss a No Win No Fee option. E-mail or call us now on 0800 088 6415.
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