Changes to Permitted Development (PD) Rights introduced in early April 2014 have transformed the landscape for anyone wishing to undertake a barn conversion in England (not applicable to the rest of the United Kingdom as it currently stands).
Further amendments took effect on 6 April 2018, including the allowance of up to five new homes to be created from existing agricultural buildings rather than the previous maximum of three.
What has Changed?
As a result of the amendment, it will now be possible to convert existing agricultural buildings – barns for example – into homes without needing to expressly apply for planning permission, as had previously been the case. Permitted Development Rights allow homeowners to carry out building work to their homes without needing to apply for planning permission from their local authority and have traditionally been used to enable minor extensions, loft conversions and the creation of outbuildings to be carried out without the need for notification.
What are the Details?
The Barn Conversion clause comes about as part of a new Class – MB – into Part 3 of the Second Schedule of the General Permitted Development Order. This new class authorises change of use of a building and any land within its curtilage from use as an agricultural building to a use falling within Class C3 – dwellings. It also authorises building operations ‘reasonably’ necessary to convert the building to residential use.
The site must have been used solely for agricultural use.
The barn must have existed on by 20th March 2013 (no building new barns!). New barns can be built and converted into homes but must exist as solely agricultural buildings for at least 10 years.
The total floorspace of your barn to be converted must be no more than 465m² – if the barn is bigger, you’ll only be able to convert to a maximum of 465m²*.
The 465m² can be divided into five* separate dwellings.
If the site is subject to an agricultural tenancy, landowners must have the express consent of their tenants.
*effective from 6 April 2018. Find out more about these changes to PD rules for agricultural buildings.
How Much Can You Rebuild?
Class MB permits reasonable building operations to convert a barn into a house, but only within the envelope of the existing structure. It permits partial demolition and rebuilding of the barn, but the extent of this allowance will probably be decided by case law. Most experts believe it unlikely that flimsy Dutch barns or glasshouses could be simply knocked down and replaced with a new house (even if it were to mimic the appearance of the existing) although this is something that will be established as homeowners and local authorities dispute the detail. However, significant improvement to the existing fabric, including new windows, even new walls as required, will be permitted under MB.
Are There any Exclusions?
Class MB – the barn conversion clause – doesn’t apply on any site within so-called Article 1(5) land, i.e. National Parks, Conservation Areas, etc.)
What do I Need to do Before I Convert my Barn?
As is increasingly the case with the more controversial elements of Permitted Development, Class MB is subject to what’s known as a Prior Notification procedure.
What is Prior Notification?
Prior notification came into force in 2013. Under this planning change, single-storey, rear residential extensions can be built up to 8m in depth (6m for a semi or terrace), provided that boundary neighbours are first informed or given ‘prior notification’. As long as there are no objections, or any objections received have no planning merit, then a Certificate of Lawful Development is issued. The 2013 changes also allowed for the change of use of buildings from office use (B1) to residential (C3).
Prior Notification Extended to Agricultural Buildings
In April 2014, the scope for prior notification was expanded to include Class Q. This allows for the change of use from agricultural buildings to ‘dwelling houses’, subject to certain conditions. In addition, the agricultural building must be capable of functioning as a dwelling house without serious structural changes (although some operations would be permitted).
An agricultural conversion can result in the creation of no more than five residential units, using up to a maximum of 465m3 of internal floorspace.*
Before starting, the converter must apply to the local authority to establish whether they will need to receive prior approval (!) for:
and ‘Whether the location or siting of the building makes it otherwise impractical or undesirable for the building to change from agricultural use to residential use.’
As you can see, this does give the local authority power to veto the development (although their decision must comply with the policies in the National Planning Policy Framework). In many ways, this makes the Prior Notification process within Permitted Development a planning application by another name.
It is still too early to gauge the impact of the Prior Notification clause; however, as barns are often in isolated rural areas, one can imagine the issues of sustainability being raised as a potential objection by local authorities.
Likewise, Prior Notification is also required for the local authority to decide whether they need to have prior approval on the design and external appearance of the building. Again, any decision must be met within the context of the NPPF, but it’s not too difficult to conclude that this is just another form of planning application. Under the Prior Notification procedure, the local authority does have the right to impose conditions on the development.
Case Sudy: Ground floor and two storey extensions to existing dwelling, demolition of existing triple garage and erection of new detached swimming pool enclosure - Wad Barn Berkswell Road Meriden Solihull CV7 7LB
Ref. No: PL/2021/02988/MINFHO | Status: Approved
En-Plan were approached by the owners of Wad Barn to extend and modernise the eixsting unit to allow for abtter appointed family home. As can be seen by the below the property has an extensive planning history:
Ref. No: PL/2015/50846/MINFHO | Status: Approved
Ref. No: PL/2015/51857/DIS | Status: Approved
Ref. No: PL/2016/01620/MINFHO | Status: Withdrawn
Ref. No: PL/2017/01475/MINFHO | Status: Approved
Ref. No: PL/2018/01404/NONMC | Status: Approved
Ref. No: PL/2019/01909/DIS | Status: Approved.
En-Plan first looked at the context of the barn and its eixsting vernacular as most barns were constructed during the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, as farms within the Borough enjoyed a peak of prosperity brought about by the Enclosure Acts, the Industrial Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Consequently, many brick farmhouses, barns and other out buildings date from this era. The buildings were either newly built or were replacements for earlier timber-framed buildings, In some cases, the replacement buildings incorporated some of the timber framing components from the original house or barn.
Many farmhouses in Solihull are statutorily listed buildings - that is, they are included on a list prepared by the Secretary of State for Culture, the Media and Sport, which records those buildings throughout the country that have special architectural or historic interest. Their out buildings, by virtue of being within the curtilage or attached physically to the main building, are often effectively listed, too. Some individual out buildings or barns are listed in their own right. It is an offence to undertake any works to listed buildings, including their conversion, without first obtaining the consent of the local planning authority (Solihull Council). However, there are many good examples of traditional rural buildings that are just as significant in their own way but which are not given the same level of protection. The Council wants to see these buildings retained as working farm buildings wherever possible. If this is no longer an option, given the changes in agricultural practices over the past century, the Council will consider schemes for their conversion to alternative uses. Farmers are being encouraged to supplement agricultural incomes through diversification of the rural economic base, and the Council will consider schemes that reflect this in a sensitive way.
The Council operates strict Green Belt policies on the use of buildings in the rural area, and this may have some bearing on the sort of new uses for old buildings that will be looked at most favourably. The Council will expect anyone putting forward a scheme for the conversion of old farm buildings to be able to justify the reuse of the buildings in terms of their potential impact on the Green Belt.
Conversions to residential use will be considered carefully, although that may not be the most appropriate use, as with other proposed uses (conversion to offices or workshop units, for example). Each proposal for the conversion of a rural building will be assessed on its individual merits but there can be no guarantee of a planning consent for a conversion. There are critical planning considerations, in particular the extremely sensitive nature of the Green Belt, where many of these buildings are situated.
It is necessary to ensure that the original building keeps as much as possible of its original character after conversion. The form of the building springs from its original use in agriculture and is normally expressed in large expanses of uninterrupted tiled roof pitches and timber framing, or mass brickwork that has mellowed over time. These elements give such buildings their character and should be retained where possible.
The Council would look to the relevant criteria set out in Planning Policy Guidance Note no.2 on Green Belts on the general suitability of schemes within the Green Belt. Planning Policy Guidance (PPG), Note no.2 relate to Green Belts. Approximately 70% of Solihull's area lies within the confirmed Green Belt and this is also the location of the vast majority of its out buildings that might be candidates for conversion. PPG 2 states that the reuse of buildings inside a Green Belt is not inappropriate providing:-
• It does not have a material effect on the openness of the Green Belt.
• Strict control is exercised over extensions and any associated use of land surrounding the building.
• The buildings are of permanent and substantial construction.
• The form, bulk and general design of buildings is in keeping with their surroundings.
If a proposal for the re-use of a Green Belt building does not meet the criteria, or if there are other specific and convincing reasons for refusal, the local planning authority should not reject the application without considering whether the imposition of appropriate conditions could overcome the reasons of refusal. Buildings do not have to be redundant to be converted.
2. The merits of a particular rural building, its location in the landscape, its current condition, the potential for reuse and the quality of the proposed conversion are some of the considerations when a planning application is being decided. Every case will be treated on its merits, but the case for conversion will be assisted if it can be shown that the building falls within the criteria set out in PPG 7. This relates to the countryside, its environmental quality and economic and social development.
The re-use of existing rural buildings for commercial and industrial development, as well as for tourism, sport and recreation, play an important part in maintaining the vitality and viability of rural areas. It applies similar criteria to PPG 2 in determining whether such conversions are appropriate. It also states that residential conversions can have a minimal impact on the economy in rural areas, whilst business conversions may have a more positive one.
Residential conversions, however, can have a part to play in meeting housing needs. It goes on to suggest that local planning authorities consider allowing residential conversion only as a subordinate part of a business use. The PPG sets out in more derail guidance on the re-use and conversion of rural buildings. In Solihull in particular conversion of farm buildings to residential properties seems to be the most popular reuse of old far buildings, although other types of reuse have become more popular in recent times, especially conversion to offices. The Council would encourage applicants to consider firstly retaining old farm buildings in agricultural or related uses.
Please call me 07931 541 804 for a free no obligation consultation or email me on email@example.com. I look forward to talking through any proposals you may have.
OTHER RELEVANT CRITERIA
Apart from policy considerations, the Council will also consider a number of other matters. Applicants will be required to support their proposals by providing information to satisfy the following criteria:-
• The new use must not have a materially greater impact than the present use on the openness of the Green Belt and the purposes of including land in it.
• Reuse for residential purposes will have to be considered carefully and is not necessarily an automatic or appropriate choice for a reuse. It may be more appropriate in some cases to consider a use for small business or storage purposes by which the integrity of the building can be retained without excessive alteration, rebuilding or extension. In all cases, the new use must be sympathetic to the rural surroundings.
• The proposal should be compatible in land use terms with any nearby development and should meet reasonable highway safety requirements. Buildings must have adequate access and car parking and be capable of being serviced without detriment to the amenities of the area or to the interests of road safety.
• The fabric of the building is broadly intact and the conversion can be carried out without extensive rebuilding. The barn should be of permanent and substantial construction and not in need of extensive rebuilding. Details of all the proposed works and the extreme of any limited demolition, will therefore be required, together with a full structural survey as necessary (this will always be needed for the conversion of listed barns). If minor repair is required, it should be carried out sympathetically, to retain the character of the building. Further demolition other than that specified in the original planning permission will not normally be allowed. A major factor in assessing proposals for conversion will be that the appearance and structure of the barn will remain as unaltered as possible, thus retaining its historic and architectural integrity. Avoidance of new external brickwork and being careful not to insert too many new window and door openings is important in retaining the character of the building.
• The converted building can provide reasonable accommodation, including garaging, without the need for extension. The Council is concerned that conversion for domestic and other uses often leads to large or unsympathetic extensions. The essential accommodation would normally need to be formed within the structure. Proposals showing the conversion of existing out buildings to garages are preferred to the construction of new garages. Additional bedrooms or living rooms would not normally be permitted. Any existing unsympathetic modern extensions to the barn should be demolished.
• The form, bulk and general design of the building should be in keeping with its surroundings, local building styles and materials should normally be respected.
ADDITIONAL DESIGN GUIDELINES FOR DEVELOPING BARN CONVERSIONS
Remember – The scheme should fit the building, not the other way about!
The original cladding materials must be retained and repaired. Care needs to be taken in pointing stonework unobtrusively and it is recommended that new timber retains a natural finish without stain or varnish. Tiles, slates or thatch should be repaired in authentic materials.
Doors and Windows
Most buildings within the Borough express a “public” side, perhaps to a road, and a “private” side, to a farmyard or field. The most successful conversions may have a “single aspect” solution, which retains the public side of the building as it originally was and makes minimum alterations to the private side, allowing only for essential doors and windows. Existing openings should be re-used and the new internal layout arranged to suit them.
New windows should only be inserted as a last resort and should be designed sensitively, with attention being given both to where they are placed and how they appear. In the case of a timber-framed building, for example, new windows should be inserted within the existing panels and under no circumstances should timber framing be cut away merely to accommodate a larger window. Window frames painted or stained in black or dark brown would help to retain the agricultural character of the building; metal frames would not normally be permitted.
If windows in the roof are absolutely unavoidable, then narrow roof lights flush with the profile of the existing roof are one solution, although these should be kept to a minimum and restricted to the private elevations of the building. Dormer windows are not a characteristic of rural buildings in this area and will destroy the original profile of the roof. Glazing inserted into the gable ends or into driftway doors can sometimes do the same job as dormers only much more discreetly.
All large threshing barns have a threshing floor served either side by a pair of full height doors, which originally provided access for fully laden horse-drawn wagons. When left open, they also allowed a through draft for the winnowing of the grain. In a conversion, these large doors and their opening pose the most significant architectural problem for the conversion. The principal entrance should reflect the original entry point where possible, since this will retain the architectural character of the building as it is. On the public side, they can be blocked internally and repaired as “false” but original doors. Should there be a need for an entrance, then it is a simple matter to provide a secondary door within one of the main doors. The doors to the private side, however, offer several architectural solutions. The alteration of solid wood to glass can often be a discreet way of increasing significantly the level of light internally, ranging from the insertion of small windows in parts of the openings on one hand to the complete glazing of the entire opening on the other.
In many traditional rural buildings the real interest lies in the roof structure, which usually contains heavy trusses, purlins and bracing. The trusses themselves can often be left exposed as an architectural feature, of which much can be made. The full potential of the surplus space could be exploited by the provision of a dramatic two-storey hall or living room, with the exposed woodwork as a feature. The opportunity may then arise to install a circulation gallery at first floor level.
Any cutting into or truncating of roof trusses or ties must be avoided. It is always preferable that new floors are inserted on new internal structures and partitions are kept away from the main frame. This ensures that the original structure remains intact and that the work is reversible.
Permanent ventilation to a traditional rural building was maintained by spaces left in the brickwork, called “airflights”, which are often found in geometric patterns. These can be glazed to provide valuable sources of light. If they are not required for this purpose, they are best blocked with a dark contrasting brick, for good effect or if not brick then material to complement existing external cladding.
Flues, Pipes and Gutters
Flues and vent pipes are an unfortunate necessity associated with conversions. However, their presence can be reduced to an absolute minimum, sufficient only to comply with health and safety requirements. Brick chimneystacks are not acceptable, as they are alien to barns, but cast iron or steel flues can be fitted inconspicuously.
It was often the case that traditional barns had no gutters or downpipes. The rainwater was merely thrown away from the building from the roof overhang. In other cases, roofs were served by cast-iron rainwater pipes. Cast-iron is more expensive than plastic guttering but it will help retain the character of the barn. Plastic gutters or downpipes are out of character and will not be approved by the Council Where metal flues and rainwater goods are installed, they should be painted black.
External aerials, satellite dishes and similar equipment would spoil the appearance of the rural building and would compromise the success of the conversion. An internal aerial should therefore be used.
Fencing, Landscaping, Floorscapes etc
The setting of the conversion is all-important. Nothing will affect it more quickly and adversely than an intrusive setting. Fussy fencing, inappropriate planting or hard surfaces and ill thought out garaging will ruin an otherwise careful conversion. Where there are existing hedges, brick walls or cobbled yards, they should be retained to enhance the character of the barn. Simple wooden post-and-rail fencing or the planing of a suitable rural hedgerow (or suitable remedial works or maintenance to an existing hedge) are more appropriate boundary treatments. Trees adjacent to the barn should be kept where possible; further advice on suitable pieces
Bat and Owl Protection
Bats can often be found roosting in the roofs of previously disused barns, and they will often die because of the treatment of old timbers with chemicals. Synthetic pyrethroids are an acceptable alternative to more harmful lindane-based chemicals commonly used. Owls also often use barns, and with care, they can be accommodated in barn conversions with little disturbance. Further guidance can be obtained on this subject from the Council’s Ecologist, or from English Nature The timing of approved conversion works must be attended to carefully, as nesting and breeding seasons could otherwise be adversely affected.
Rural buildings, by their nature, are often located in open fields or other comparatively undeveloped areas. To prevent a build-up of unnecessary paraphernalia, the Council will encourage occupiers of converted barns to keep a minimum evidence of residential or other occupation. Decorative features such as cartwheels, ornate ironwork, planters, garden furniture, play equipment and washing lines should either be located sensitively so as to not distract from the open setting of the conversion or be dispensed with.
En-Plan Consultants look forward to answering any questions you may have as part of a free no obligation consultation to begin the planning and development process.