Builder working on barn conversion© Global Warming Images/Rex Shutterstock

Farmers in England are having more of their barn-to-dwelling conversions approved, but there is still a postcode lottery among planning authorities.

Nearly 60% of the 954 applications made between April and June this year were granted – a big improvement on last year, when the same period saw two-thirds of applications refused.

It is also an improvement on the previous quarter when 49% were granted.

New legislation was introduced in April 2014 to allow farmers to convert agricultural buildings into dwellings without going through a lengthy planning application.

See also: Charges make Brecon Beacon farm barn conversions ‘unviable’

But farmers and planning advisers complained that the majority of applications were being turned down on grounds that ignored the fact the legislation was intended specifically for rural buildings.

The main reason given for refusal was that barns in rural locations were far from amenities and required use of private vehicles, which was deemed unsustainable.

After lobbying from quarters such as the Country Land and Business Association and the NFU, the legislation was clarified in March this year.

Challenges and postcode lottery remain

Suzanne Clear, senior adviser on planning at the NFU, said the changes had reduced the number of applications now being refused on sustainability grounds.

However, many planning authorities had moved on to refusing applications on the grounds of structural changes.

This could be as small a change as adding a chimney or a woodburner flue, while what counted as curtilage around the building was also causing debate, said Ms Clear.

Applications were still something of a postcode lottery, she said, with 80-90% of applications refused by some authorities.

Planning authorities with most refusals of farm building to dwelling

  • Mid Devon – 20 refused, 24 approved
  • Torridge – 18 refused, 14 granted

Planning authorities with least refusals of farm building to dwelling

  • Ashford – 17 approved, 9 refused
  • North Devon – 17 approved, 6 refused
  • West Devon – 16 granted, 3 refused
  • East Lindsey – 11 approved, 4 refused

The government is looking to review the legislation again this autumn. This provided another opportunity to push for further clarity, said Ms Clear.