Converting redundant farm buildings to dwellings

Obtaining permission to convert redundant farm buildings to residential dwellings has, traditionally, been difficult, time-consuming and often expensive. As from 6 April 2014, the process may become somewhat less arduous following an amendment to the rules for permitted development which will allow conversion from agricultural use to residential without the need for a formal planning permission.

The changes apply to existing agricultural buildings which were used in an agricultural business as at 20 March 2013. If the buildings were empty but not actually being used as part of an agricultural business, the new rules will only apply when the buildings have been in agricultural use for at least ten years.

The new permitted development rights allow for alterations to floor space of up to 450 square metres per agricultural holding with a limit of three separate dwellings. The physical changes needed to convert the building to a dwelling include the installation of new windows and doors, roofs and exterior walls, installation of services and any partial demolition to incorporate these changes. It will not be possible to extend the original footprint of the building but it will be possible to use the curtilage of the building for gardens.

New dwellings created under these provisions will not benefit from the usual permitted development rights for residential properties so planning permission will be required for extensions to the original building or for garages or outbuildings.

Before starting any such development, there is a requirement to submit an application to the local planning authority for prior approval. The local authority must be given an opportunity to approve or refuse specific issues such as arrangements for highway access and traffic, the risk of flooding and contamination, the practicality of the location and siting of the new dwelling and the design and external appearance. Any applicant will need to submit a written description of the proposed development and a plan of the site. The local authority is likely to request further information including impact and risk assessments and a written statement dealing with any such risks. The local authority has 56 days from submission of a valid application to issue a decision.

There is one caveat for farmers intending to convert redundant buildings. If you carry out a conversion to a dwelling, it will not be possible to erect new agricultural storage buildings under permitted development rights for at least ten years. It is therefore vital to weigh up the benefits of a conversion now with the likelihood of needing further storage buildings within the next few years.