Planning Case Study – Replacement of Farm Barn with a Dwelling within an AONB

Samuel & Son obtained planning consent for a client in June 2015 for the demolition of a farm barn and its subsequent replacement with a larger new build dwelling within an AONB. The case, which was extended and complex, provided a highly interesting and testing process of planning policy at both national and local level relating to Class Q Permitted Development and its wider interpretation and implementation.

Replacement of Farm Barn with a Dwelling within an AONB

Whilst an emotional roller-coaster ride for the Applicant for whom the outcome would be life changing, from a professional perspective, this case was an interesting and testing process of planning policy interpretation and implementation at both national and local level.

IMG_0310The Applicants purchased a Sussex smallholding of about 6 acres in 1997 comprising pasture, woodland and a 9m x 9m ageing steel framed storage barn and used the land for private equestrian and agricultural purposes.  They approached Samuel & Son in May 2014 seeking professional advice about the potential conversion of the existing agricultural storage barn into an alternative use.

The property appeared to have all the ingredients to fulfil what at the time would have been a Class MB (now called Class Q) permitted development application (conversion of a farm building to a dwelling under the relatively new permitted development rights). The barn, however, lies just within the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) which immediately excludes the property from the benefit of such Class Q permitted development rights.  Dan Page of Samuel & Son recommended the client test the water with the Local Planning Authority (LPA), and requested a pre-application advice meeting, outlining the possible proposals to both convert the barn to a dwelling under full planning or the option to convert the barn into a holiday let.

The LPA (Wealden in this case) received the option to convert the barn to a dwelling relatively positively on the basis that Central Government are putting pressure on local authorities to take a proactive and flexible approach in these sorts of cases.  The pre-app summary from Wealden stated:

“In summary whilst the site cannot benefit from a Class MB prior notification and is set in an isolated and unsustainable location with reference to the position set out above it seems there may be potential for the existing building to be converted in accordance with the restrictions of Class MB through a planning application, subject to a demonstration there is no wider landscape harm or alternatively a similar application that seeks to secure a more sympathetic and sustainable built form.  It needs to be noted this is not a form of development that is explicitly supported in a Local Plan Policy but is a pragmatic approach currently forwarded by the Council with regard to the Governments new permitted development rights for residential uses in agricultural buildings.”

On this basis, the central focus of the subsequent and final full planning application for Dan was the application’s ability to deliver enhancements to the landscape with sustainable design at its core and the genuine intent of the Applicant to create a long term home in the community.  The proposal was for a modest 2 bed Wealden style farmhouse to replace, and slightly extend, the footprint of the existing barn on site, which had no architectural merit and was clearly an eye-sore.    The difficulty for Dan was that there was no single planning policy or permitted development order that could be referred to and he was heading into unchartered territory.  The full planning application essentially referred to the policy supporting a Class Q dwelling under the GPDO and with the emphasis on the ability of the LPA to be flexible and pragmatic.

The local Parish Council strongly objected to the proposal on the grounds that the property was located within an AONB and in referring to Class Q Development, commented that the building was not solely used for agriculture and the barn itself was not suitable for conversion and would be a knock down and re-build which Class Q did not allow for.

The LPA were supportive of the application and it was recommended for approval by the planning case officer but, out of his control, the application was referred to Planning Committee.  Following an extended six month consultation process, at the final committee hearing in June 2015, there was an hour of intense and heated debate on the proposal with various comments both in favour and in opposition.  Ultimately Dan Page was able to demonstrate, through his allotted time to speak to the Committee, that the Class Q requirement was not strictly relevant and that arguably the main issue was that the existing building could be replaced with a more sympathetic, and better designed sustainable building than would have resulted from the conversion of the steel portal framed and clad building, thus improving the visual amenity of the local area.

With support from the Head of Planning, the Planning Committee decided that on balance, with the enhancement of the landscape and its social and economic benefits to the area, the development was a positive improvement to the community and the vote went in our favour, 6-4.

Needless to say, the applicants were delighted with the result achieved, commenting:  “Dan Page of Samuel & Son had been recommended to us by two local farmers.  We are absolutely delighted with the outcome which would not have been achievable without the professional guidance and expertise of Dan throughout this very complicated planning process.”

If you require any planning help and guidance and would like to discuss your specific situation, please contact our planning expert Dan Page.

Tel: 01435 864020