Comment - Issues arise on farm conversion leeway

Anyone grappling with permitted development rights introduced this spring to convert farm buildings into residential use should note an inspector's decision in Devon last month focusing on the number of new dwellings that can be created under class MB, part 3, schedule 2 of the General Permitted Development (GPDO) 1995 as amended.

The case (see Dwellings held to exceed permitted rights limit) concerned plans to convert agricultural buildings into three dwellings. Paragraph 7.4 of the explanatory memorandum to the amended GPDO states that "under new class MB", agricultural buildings will be able to change into up to three dwellinghouses. It adds: "Up to 450 square metres of agricultural buildings will be able to change to residential use for up to three dwellings." The inspector recognised that the words "under new class MB" appeared to support the appellant's claim that the order excludes any previous residential conversions from the limit of three.

However, he concluded that the actual wording of class MB was the determining factor. He noted that paragraph MB.1(b) refers to "changing use under class MB" in setting the 450 square metre upper limit. However, he found it significant that this phrase does not reappear in paragraph MB.1(c), which pegs the cumulative total of dwellings that can be created to three. On that basis, he held that two dwellings already converted on the farm had to be offset against this maximum, even though they were private lets so clearly ancillary to the primary agricultural use.

On the same day, the inspector fitted in a site visit to another class MB prior approval case (DCS Number 400-005-694), which gives some pointers on the interpretation of paragraph MB.2(1). This lays down the issues that planning authorities can take into account in determining prior approval applications for farm building conversions, including whether the location makes it "impractical or undesirable" to switch use from agricultural to residential.

The site lay within a kilometre of a village with a range of facilities and four kilometres of a large town. Even so, the inspector decided that the converted dwellings would be isolated, contravening paragraph 55 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). He found that their siting in open fields would need occupiers and visitors to use off-road vehicles, breaching the requirement in paragraph 32 of the NPPF for safe and suitable access for all.

It may be indicative that these two decisions were the only class MB cases involving more than one dwelling logged on our sister company DCS's COMPASS appeals database over the past two months. Another five cases involving conversions into single or an unspecified number of dwellings were decided over the same period, of which four resulted in dismissals.

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