Government announces major reform in rural planning…

So –  all change, again!  Boris Johnson has announced that the Government will ease restrictions in the rural planning system with the intention to make it easier to convert and redevelop farm buildings into residential properties.  These measures are also to be extended to designated landscapes, including National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  Eleni outlines her initial thoughts.

The changes to rural planning which have been announced focuses upon making it easier to convert rural buildings (be that disused barns or other buildings).   The driver behind this is stated to be to supply more homes in rural areas to enable people to stay in areas where there is generally a lack of housing supply as well as issues with regard to affordability of such properties.  Whilst there are some rural businesses and farming families who obtain consent for family members themselves or similar for their own occupation to enable them to live at home or at their place or work – a large volume of conversions are sold with consent- to developers.

As a result of this I do not think the proposals would necessarily provide housing for rural communities as perhaps intended as inevitably many would be sold at a price which could still prohibit younger house buyers or rural workers from purchasing.  Despite this there is a potential that rural businesses could utilise the changes to obtain consents to release capital value for reinvestment which could have differing benefits for rural communities and businesses.

We have no detail as to how this claimed easing of regulations will take place at the moment – it could be through both changes within the National Planning Policy Framework (which are due imminently) and/or changes to the permitted development regime for example by removing or increasing current floor area restrictions or extending such rights into areas which currently don’t benefit as previously noted. Such changes would not, however, change the starting point for determination of full applications as being the Local Plan (albeit they would likely be argued as a material consideration) nor would they change the differing attitudes and approaches of Councils to rural conversions across the country.

One of the largest barriers we see to conversion projects is whether a building is structurally capable of conversion/of permanent and substantial construction i.e. is it tantamount to a new build and the tipping point at which this becomes the case.  With key case law such as Hibbett regularly quoted on this matter unless the proposed changes provide specific guidance which deviates from this current approach with regard to allowable works to enable such re-use the same issues would likely present themselves again even with the amendments seeking to make things easier.

It will be an interesting period of change and we await further detail in due course!