Prime minister Boris Johnson has pledged to ease planning regulations to make it easier to convert disused barns and other buildings.
The commitment was included in a speech made in Blackpool on “levelling up” the UK housing market.
Mr Johnson spoke of the need to see more of the right homes built in the right places.
This included a promise to “sensitively make use of existing planning rights, for example by making it easier to turn disused agricultural buildings into homes for local first-time buyers, and to support farmers in growing and diversifying their businesses”.
The pledge has been welcomed by farm leaders and planning experts, who are hoping it will lead to changes that make a significant difference.
While the planning industry waits for further details, Tom Stanley, development land and planning department head at Knight Frank, said the current permitted development rights that allow farmers to convert barns into homes under certain circumstances could be tweaked.
“Options could be the removal of the maximum square metre threshold, maximum unit number threshold, or even the Article 1(5) land restriction that applies in the likes of areas of outstanding national beauty [AONBs],” he said.
Mark Tufnell, president of the Country Land and Business Association, said planning reforms were needed to help to stem the “brain drain” of people unable to find suitable housing, which was holding back the rural economy.
“Rural communities everywhere see talented people forced to leave because of the lack of housing,” he said.
“Making it easier to convert thousands of redundant farm buildings into homes on farmland and in designated landscapes, including national parks and AONBs, is a key policy of our Rural Powerhouse campaign and a step in the right direction.
“These reforms will create new jobs, encourage more people to live and work in rural areas, and allow rural businesses to grow for the benefit of communities across the country.”
Defra minister George Eustice said that for too long it had been difficult for farmers and landowners to gain planning permission when trying to diversify.
“We are on the side of rural communities,” he said. “The prime minister has announced we will make it easier to convert disused agricultural buildings into homes for local people – something that rural communities and businesses have been calling for.”