CPRE raises concerns over planning relaxation for farm conversions

Eric Pickles

Eric Pickles - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2011

A relaxation of planning controls governing the re-use of redundant farm buildings has brought contrasting reactions from countryside campaigners in East Anglia.

New permitted development rights were announced by the government on Thursday which will allow former agricultural buildings to be re-used as shops, restaurants, leisure facilities or offices – without the need for planning permission.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles said he wanted to 'promote the use of brownfield land to assist regeneration, and get empty and under-used buildings back into productive use.'

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA), which has lobbied for the change on behalf of companies and landowners, welcomed the move and said it would create new jobs and boost the rural economy.

But the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) is concerned that, without further safeguards, greater freedom to convert farm buildings could risk damaging the character and beauty of the countryside.

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David Hook, of CPRE Norfolk's planning group, said: 'It is particularly relevant here because we are in an agricultural region, so any move to relax the conditions around converting agricultural buildings is of great consequence.

'Lots of stuff will go under the radar which down the line could be converted into houses, or be completely inappropriate for its surroundings.

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'Planning exists for a good reason. It balances what developers want to do with what the community wants.

'There is no argument against agricultural buildings being used for different purposes, but it should be run through the planning process so those controls are applied and it does not become a free-for-all.'

CLA president Harry Cotterell said the association had lobbied for nearly a decade for disused farm barns and other agricultural outbuildings to be eligible for redevelopment under permitted development rights.

He said: 'This is a great victory. This change will help to underpin farming businesses and boost the rural economy by assisting in the creation of new jobs and businesses at a time when they are greatly needed.'

The new measures also include other new permitted development rights, which will be in place for three years, to allow office space to be converted into new homes.

Town centre buildings will be able to convert more easily in a bid to help new shops, business start-ups and community projects to set up in high streets.

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