Councils urged to act on new permitted development rights for farm conversions

Planning minister and Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis. Photo: Bill Smith

Planning minister and Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis. Photo: Bill Smith

Countryside campaigners in East Anglia have called on the planning minister to put more pressure on councils to allow the conversion of agricultural buildings to homes.

In the first three months since the introduction of new permitted development rights (PDRs) earlier this year, almost two-thirds of applications to convert farm buildings into residential dwellings were refused.

New government figures show that 84 applications needing local authority prior approval were refused between April and June, compared to 45 that were granted. Of those, one was refused in each of Broadland and South Norfolk, while one was approved in North Norfolk.

Housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis, also the MP for Great Yarmouth, recently told the House of Commons that the extension of PDRs was aimed at simplifying 'excessive red tape' in the planning process and empowering individuals in rural communities.

But rural landowners want more to be done to force planning authorities to act on the updated laws which they say would help underpin farming businesses and boost the rural economy across the eastern region.

Claire Wright, east regional surveyor for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), said: 'Converting old agricultural buildings to residential use is ideal for those looking to create living space for their families, staff or even themselves, especially if they are looking to retire and pass their farmhouse and business over to the next generation or a successor.

'It also means old and unused buildings that are part of our farming heritage are not lost forever to the ravages of time.

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'If the government is serious about getting more under-used agricultural buildings back into use and helping with our chronic housing shortage, then the planning minister must act to ensure local authorities take a genuinely constructive approach to permitted development.'

Mr Lewis said: 'By bringing empty and redundant buildings back into productive use, councils can unlock the potential of local brownfield sites while protecting their local countryside at no cost to the taxpayer.

'We will keep the operation of the permitted development right under review and will consider whether additional planning guidance would be helpful.'

A spokesman for Broadland District Council said: 'There are strict criteria on the applications that can be approved under this legislation. Several we have received don't meet that criteria and that's likely to be true across the country.

'For a start, 'agricultural buildings' have to be, or were last in use as, part of an established agricultural unit – not just situated on agricultural land. 'Proposed housing also has to be in a sustainable location with easy access to essential services and facilities, such as shops, schools and medical facilities. Inevitably many agricultural buildings are isolated in the countryside and government guidance specifically says turning these into isolated homes should be avoided.'