Born-again buildings can provide prime locations

14 August 1998

Born-again buildings can provide prime locations

Renovating old farm

buildings can be a source

pleasure and profit, explains

Daniel Jones of property

consultants Bidwells

EVER thought of improving those lovely traditional barns or large portal frame buildings that you hardly use? Now, as the need to maximise all sources of income intensifies, could be the time to act.

There is good demand for well-converted suites in rural locations from office-based businesses. They include small firms starting up or firms that want to get out of town where traffic congestion and car parking problems continue to increase.

Location is all important. Occupiers often wish to be within five miles of a significant business centre or up to 10 to 15 miles from a town or city. Adequate access/car parking are also critical factors in success.

Other commercial uses, such as industrial, light manufacturing or storage/distribution also suit rural conversion schemes.

The type of commercial use that a conversion scheme will attract depends on many factors including the type of buildings involved, access/car parking, the nature of business in the area and planning control.

It may be that certain buildings do not suit commercial use and could be converted for residential use. Planning policy tends to dictate that employment uses will always be preferred.

But it is possible to obtain residential consent for traditional buildings, even in green belt and other constrained locations, such as in areas of high landscape value, without demonstrating that a proposal fails the commercial test first. That might be as a consequence of surrounding land uses or constrained access.

Some areas also command tourism or recreation-based uses of buildings.

Planning policy is now positive towards the re-use of rural buildings, especially for employment-generating uses. National and regional planning policy guidance dictates this and structure plans and local plans throughout the country reflect it. Naturally, policies vary from district to district, where factors can weigh against this generally relaxed climate.


Some authorities have concerns over the sustainability of schemes in more remote areas. Attention can focus on future demand and how schemes will fit in with integrated traffic policies, where the trend is towards encouraging people to use public transport more and private cars less. Demand is there, however, for well-planned and thought out schemes that provide flexible space on simple and flexible terms with no hidden surprises.

Schemes must be investigated thoroughly before planning applications are lodged and works for conversion started. Demand needs to be gauged and planners involved at an early stage so that their views can be established, and the conversion costs estimated.

A development appraisal should then be carried out and, if the returns are attractive, the scheme can progress.

Planning applications need to be dealt with carefully after checking schemes thoroughly with planners, and ensuring that the designs comply with relevant policies and are environmentally sensitive.

Early work on building design leading to the application is critical to the chances of success, not only in obtaining a satisfactory planning permission, but also with regard to creating the demand predicted.

A well thought out and converted scheme can put you in the position of choosing tenants. And that allows you to obtain stronger covenants.

Alteration work needs to be carefully specified, tendered and monitored, complying with all local authority and health and safety regulations.

The terms on which the suites or units are let is important. An agent who knows the area, business movements and how to spread awareness of the development to all potential tenants quickly should be involved to get the best out of any scheme.

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