Barn conversions to become easier, says minister

By Mike Sergeant
Local government correspondent, BBC News

  • Published

Farmers will be able to convert more agricultural buildings into houses, under changes to the planning rules, which have been confirmed.

Planning Minister Nick Boles said this would make "better use of redundant or under-used agricultural buildings" without building on the countryside.

Up to 450 sq m (4,850 sq ft) of buildings per farm could be turned into a maximum of three houses, he added.

But campaigners say an increase in conversions could damage rural areas.

The government is also amending the rules, so that up to 500 sq m of agricultural buildings on each farm can be changed into schools and nurseries.

'Re-affirming protection'

However, the Department for Communities and Local Government said farmers would not be allowed to "demolish cow sheds or outbuildings", only to convert or renovate them.

Until now, farmers and landowners wanting to convert empty or under-used buildings have faced tougher restrictions.

Campaigners have expressed concern about the possibility of a new wave of barn conversions in "green belt" areas surrounding cities, where housing is often in short supply.

The government has also confirmed that "under-used" shops can be changed into residential housing, as previously announced when the consultation was launched. This applies to retail space of 150 sq m or less.

But these "permitted development" changes will not apply in national parks, conservation areas or areas of outstanding natural beauty.

Ministers are also publishing what they say is the "final version" of their planning practice guidance - now available on "an accessible website".

Mr Boles said the government was "re-affirming green belt protection" and noting that "unmet housing need was unlikely to outweigh harm to the green belt".

The guidance stresses the importance of bringing brown-field land back into use.

The planning guidance on flood risk has also, say ministers, been made more "robust", with new development on flood-risk sites blocked unless councils meet a series of "strict tests set out in the national policy".

The Campaign to Protect Rural England said it was "concerned that allowing barn conversions without planning permission could do real damage" to the countryside.