Planning and Barn Conversions

Our planning and property lawyers are advising numerous clients in relation to barn conversions. This is a constantly developing area of law where landowners have been frustrated at local planning authorities’ reluctance to allow them to take advantage of new rules, introduced by the government to provide more flexibility and to encourage the conversion of agricultural buildings to residential use.


The Government’s Planning Practice Guidance was revised on 5 March 2015 and this has resulted in a reduction of the number of refusals for applications to exercise permitted development rights for conversion of agricultural buildings.

Councils refusing applications

Previous figures showed that more than half of barn conversion prior approval applications submitted, to take advantage of new ‘permitted development rights’, were being refused by Councils. Common reasons for refusal were the location of buildings, where it could be argued that this was unsustainable for isolated sites.

Refusal rates have fallen sharply since the publication of the guidance in March, although a significant proportion of prior approval applications were still refused in the second quarter of 2015. The guidance attaches conditions to potential changes to residential use.

Before beginning the development, an application is necessary to determine whether the prior approval of the local planning authority is necessary for the change of use. This prior approval is in respect of transport, highways and noise impacts of the development. It also considers the flooding and contamination risks on the site, and whether the location or siting of the building makes it “otherwise impractical or undesirable” for the building to change from agricultural use to dwelling house. In addition, applicants will need to check whether approval is required for the design, or alterations to the external appearance of the building.

Apply an ordinary dictionary

“Impractical or undesirable” is not defined in the regulations, and the local planning authority must apply a reasonable ‘ordinary dictionary’ meaning in making any judgement.

However, the guidance now states that when considering whether it is appropriate for the change of use to take place in a particular location, a local planning authority should start from the premise that the permitted development right grants planning permission. This is subject to the prior approval requirements as set out above, and the fact that an agricultural building may be in a location where the local planning authority would not normally grant planning permission for a new dwelling, is not seen as an acceptable reason for refusing prior approval.

As with other planning decisions, applicants may also issue appeals against a local planning authority’s refusal, or non-determination, of an application for prior approval for development permitted by the legislation [Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015].

Prior approval appeals generally follow the same procedures and timetables as appeals relating to ordinary planning permissions.