Stone cottage being converted on farm© FLPA/Wayne-Hutchinson/Rex Shutterstock

Farmers who want to change the use of offices to dwellings or pull down existing offices to make new homes may be able to from now on.

A temporary permitted development right (PDR) that allowed offices to be converted to residential use was due to end in May 2016, but will now be made permanent.

In addition, the planning housing minister, Brandon Lewis, said the new permanent PDR would allow office buildings to be demolished and replaced with new residential buildings, although this would be subject to prior approval by the local planning authority.

The new PDR will also allow the change of use of light industrial buildings to new homes.

See also: Barn conversion approvals hit 60% but postcode lottery remains

PDRs allow property owners to change the use of a building without having to go through a lengthy planning process.

Good news for empty on-farm offices

Farmers who had applied for change of use for an agricultural building to an office could in theory use the new PDR to convert an office to a dwelling, said Fenella Collins, head of planning at the Country Land and Business Association.

Many farm-based office blocks stood empty, said Ms Collins, often because there was not adequate broadband available in rural locations – and so the new PDR could appeal to many farmers.

The change of use from office to dwelling might not carry such onerous conditions as the PDR for changing an agricultural building to residential use, added Ms Collins.

The latter has been dogged by controversy because of how authorities have interpreted the planning guidance – with many turning down the majority of applications when the PDR was first introduced last year. 

Converting an office into a residential building will require conditions on flooding, contamination, highways and transport to be met, while the change of use from a farm building to dwelling is more restrictive. 

Sam Catling, surveyor at Rostons said: “Although this was expected, the move is good for the economy and will assist in meeting the need of housing supplies in a sustainable manner without the need of developing further green spaces.”

The PDR for change of use from office to residential was first introduced in 2013 and lead to the approval of 4,000 conversions between April 2014 and June this year.