A new life for agricultural buildings?
Unused barns and outbuildings have previously had to battle the planning process in order to be transformed into holiday accommodation, a farm shop, or offices. However, thanks to changes in planning legislation earlier this year, farmers could increasingly realise the benefits of such conversions without the need for full planning permission.
By Alan Hardwick, partner at Fisher German (www.fishergerman.co.uk).
The dilemma of what to do with old agricultural buildings that are no longer fit for purpose is familiar to farmers and owners of rural properties. Increases in the size of farm machinery and changes in farming processes pose a particular challenge for buildings that were constructed in the days of early tractors or even the era of the horse-drawn plough.
Many buildings are simply not large enough for modern agricultural use, and often relegated to use as temporary cattle sheds or as storage space for farming supplies.
Until this summer, owners looking to convert an old building to a commercial use, such as a farm shop, café, offices for small businesses or workshops for light industrial or distribution companies, were required to make a planning application to their local council. This could be costly and the outcome was far from guaranteed.
Since June, however, that hurdle has been removed, thanks to changes in planning legislation made by the coalition government. Depending on the size of the building to be converted, owners may be able to cut down on the paperwork (and costs) or avoid making a planning application altogether.
The change applies to all buildings measuring less than 500 square-metres used solely for agricultural purposes before July 2012. Buildings of less than 150 square-metres now require no planning application but the owner must notify the local authority that works will take place. For buildings of 150–500 square-metres no full planning application is required but a cut-down, prior approval process applies.
The new policy stance has made conversions much easier and allows owners to channel the cost savings into the converted building, by using them, for example, for the internal fit-out. It gives owners much more flexibility – conversions can be used directly, or sold or rented to third parties. In some cases third parties may even approach them.
Fisher German works in many beautiful areas that contain similar buildings which may be suitable for conversion to guest house or hotel accommodation. For example, an owner in the Peak District National Park was solicited by an organisation interested in converting his 400-square-metre stone barn into hostel accommodation.
Other uses are proving popular, such as equine-related stores (for example, tack shops), arts and crafts emporiums and other rural enterprises.
While the change in legislation will be a boon to many rural building owners, there are numerous caveats and it may not be immediately clear whether owners will be at an advantage. Specialist advice can help avoid costly errors.
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