Countryside group urges ministers to act over 'scandal' of blocked conversions

A body representing landowners and businesses in rural areas has called on ministers to act to address the 'scandal' of local authorities blocking applications made under recently relaxed planning rules to convert farm buildings to homes.

Barn conversion: CLA says local authorities are flouting rules (picture: Muellar, via Flickr)
Barn conversion: CLA says local authorities are flouting rules (picture: Muellar, via Flickr)

A new permitted development right allowing agricultural landowners convert existing buildings into dwellings without planning permission came into force in April.

But figures recently published the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) revealed that 52 per cent of 162 agricultural-to-residential prior approval decisions in the second quarter of this year were refusals, a far higher proportion than applications made under other recent permitted development right changes.

In a statement issued today, Country Land and Business Association (CLA) president Henry Robinson said: "The introduction of class MB permitted development rights was a hard fought battle for the CLA and the government. The fact that local authorities are blatantly refusing to follow legislation is a scandal.

"If the government is serious about getting more underused agricultural buildings back into use and helping with our chronic housing shortage, then the planning minister must act to ensure local authorities take a genuinely constructive approach to permitted development."

Under the permitted development rules, developers must notify their local planning authority to determine whether prior approval will be required in relation to the scheme's transport, highways and noise impacts, the site's risk of contamination or flooding, and whether the location of the building "makes it otherwise impractical or undesirable" to change the use.

In October, DCLG chief planner Steve Quartermain told the British Institute of Agricultural Consultants' conference that some authorities had been "tempted" to consider other matters when deciding prior approval applications.

He told delegates: "Prior approval is not planning approval light - it's permitted development. Local authorities can't bring in matters that aren't conditions."

Housing minister Brandon Lewis said: "The government’s permitted development changes are providing much needed homes right across the country. By bringing empty and redundant buildings back into productive use, councils can unlock the potential of local brownfield sites while protecting their local countryside at no cost to the taxpayer.

"We will keep the operation of the permitted development right under review and will consider whether additional planning guidance would be helpful."

NOTE: This story was amended after publication to include a comment from DCLG, which had been contacted prior to publication.

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