‘Postcode lottery’ of farm building conversion set to end

Farmers will stand a better chance of getting approval for the conversion of farm buildings to dwellings, after the government sharpened guidance.

A large proportion of applications for conversions under Class MB permitted development rights (PDRs) have been turned down since they were introduced in April 2014.

This was blamed on a lack of clear guidance, which left a large degree of interpretation down to local planning authorities and created a ‘postcode lottery’ on permitted development rights.

A common reason for application refusals was the building being deemed too far from services and amenities. This was despite Class MB PDRs being designed specifically for farm buildings, which are by their nature usually remote.

The new guidance should stop applications being refused on these grounds.

The guidance states that: 

“The permitted development right does not apply a test in relation to sustainability of location. This is deliberate as the right recognises that many agricultural buildings will not be in village settlements and may not be able to rely on public transport for their daily needs.”

Instead, planning authorities will be asked to consider whether the location of the dwelling would make it ‘impractical’ or ‘undesirable’:

“Local planning authorities may, for example, consider that because an agricultural building on the top of a hill with no road access, power source or other services its conversion is impractical.

“Additionally the location of the building whose use would change may be undesirable if it is adjacent to other uses such as intensive poultry farming buildings, silage storage or buildings with dangerous machines or chemicals.”

The guidance on how many conversions are allowed on each farm has also been clarified. Three new conversions per farm will be permitted.

Fenella Collins, head of planning at the CLA, advised farmers who had previously had their Class MB PDR applications turned down to reapply and refer to the new guidance.

CLA president Henry Robinson said: “Since the agricultural buildings PDRs came into force there has been significant demand from farmers and landowners to convert buildings on their land, but they have found themselves frustrated by inconsistent and unduly restrictive decisions to refuse conversions across the country.

“That is why we have been determined to get ministers to clarify the law so that all involved know where they stand when it comes to implementing the regulations. We are optimistic that this guidance will go a significant way to addressing our concerns.

Between July and September 2014, 64% of Class MB applications were refused by local planning authorities – 346 applications compared with 193 that were granted. Nearly 60 authorities refused all applications.

Read our advice on how to give your PDR application the best possible chance of success.