Farm barn being converted© FLPA/Wayne Hutchinson/REX/Shutterstock

The number of farmers applying to convert farm buildings into dwellings under Permitted Development Rights (PDRs) has dropped as concern grows about the level of regulation involved.

The rules, which were introduced in 2014, allow the change of use of agricultural buildings that are no longer needed for farming to provide up to three homes on a farm holding.

The NFU has highlighted that the number of prior approval applications under Class Q of the PDR fell by 22% between April and June 2017, compared with the same period in 2016.

See also: The lowdown on permitted development rights

In terms of total numbers, 328 prior approval applications were given the go-ahead in the spring while 218 were refused, according to the latest figures from the Department of Government and Local Communities.

This means that there has been little change in the trend for local authorities to block significant numbers of applications for prior approval.

In 2015/16, around half of all prior approval applications in the whole country were rejected by planning authorities.

This contrasts with the approval rate for general planning applications, which is 83%.

Frustration

Suzanne Clear, senior planning adviser for the NFU, said the drop in applications stemmed from the frustration farmers felt about the prior approval process, which she described as suffering from “excessive regulation”.

In theory, PDRs should be the easiest way to build a home on a farm, but in reality the rules are overcomplicated and difficult to interpret.

Many farmers have reported that local planning authorities were asking for the same amount of planning documents as they would for a normal planning application and also demanding farmers pay out for costly structural and habitat reports, she said.

As a result, applications were taking too long and costing too much money.

“It is really frustrating for farmers, particularly when they see figures about how many new houses are needed, to find they reach an impasse with their local authority,” she said.

“The amount of regulation in place is excessive, so it is putting people off.”

Ms Clear said that in February the government consulted on possible changes to Class Q, which include increasing the amount of floor space that can be converted.

The government is also looking at introducing a new right to be able to create up to five dwellings of 150sq/m each.

“A lot of farmers are waiting for the revised guidelines because of the suggestion there is going to be a new positive policy. We really are looking for the government to send a positive message out on this.”