Equestrian Worker’s Dwellings in the Green Belt – Success!

Stuart Miles, Vision Planning’s Director, has recently helped two applicants to live on site at their equestrian holdings in the Green Belt.

Vision Planning recently obtained planning permission for the retention of a caravan to provide a temporary equestrian worker’s dwelling in the East Hertfordshire Green Belt.

The holding provides a full livery service, and cares for sick and damaged horses which can require 24 hour care.  Vision Planning convinced the Council that the accommodation was necessary to enable the business to continue, despite the Green Belt location, and the application was approved (see East Herts Council ref 3/18/1074/FUL).

And in December 2017 (while at DPDS), Stuart submitted an appeal against Wiltshire Council’s refusal of an application to retain a log cabin for an equestrian worker in the Green Belt near Bath.

Stuart argued that, based on the Embleton Court Judgement (see https://visionplanning.co.uk/rural-workers-dwellings/), there is no need to demonstrate that a business is economically viable or to support an agricultural worker on a minimum wage; all that matters is that an essential need for a rural worker is demonstrated.

The Inspector agreed that the Council had been over zealous in requiring the business to be financially viable in the conventional sense, and allowed the appeal (see Wiltshire Council ref 17/06080/FUL).

Converting larger agricultural buildings to homes

On 6 April 2018, new permitted development rules came in that allow the conversion of much larger barns than before to residential use.

Before 6 April, you could convert a barn with a floorspace of up to 450 sq.m. to up to 3 homes.

Now, it seems that you can convert a barn with a floorspace of up to 865 sq.m. to up to 5 homes.

The new permitted development right allows the conversion of up to 465 sq.m. of agricultural buildings to up to 3 “larger dwellings”, or up to 5 smaller homes, each with a floorspace no larger than 100 sq.m.

However, the permitted development rules appear to allow a “mix and match” as long as you meet all of the following requirements:
• the total number of homes created can’t be more than 5;
• the floorspace taken up by homes larger than 100 sq.m. can’t be more than 465 sq.m, and you can’t have more than 3 of these larger homes; and
• other smaller homes can’t be larger than 100 sq.m..

This means you should be able to convert agricultural buildings into one larger dwelling of 465 sq.m. plus 4 smaller dwellings each no larger than 100 sq.m. This is a total of 865 sq.m.

It is not absolutely clear that this was deliberate. It may be a loophole that closes soon.

Don’t forget that, even though this is permitted development, you still need to apply for “prior approval”, and there are other conditions you need to comply with.

So if you have a larger agricultural building that you want to convert to housing, contact Vision Planning ASAP.

Converting Agricultural Buildings to Dwellings – an update

In February I explained how Planning Inspectors were dealing with appeals relating to the change of use of an agricultural building to housing.

The Government has decided that Councils are refusing too many of these applications, and made a few changes to the rules to make it easier, or at least clearer.

From 6 April 2018, you will be able to create up to five new dwellings, rather than three, with a total area of 465 square metres rather than 450 square metres.  Each of the five can be no larger than 100 square metres.

At the same time the Government has updated its Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) to clarify what building works are allowed under this permitted development right.

This specifies that the following building works are allowed where they are reasonably necessary to convert the building: “the installation or replacement of windows, doors, roofs, exterior walls, water, drainage, electricity, gas or other services to the extent reasonably necessary for the building to function as a dwelling house; and partial demolition to the extent reasonably necessary to carry out these building operations.”

It also specifies that: “Internal works are not generally development. For the building to function as a dwelling it may be appropriate to undertake internal structural works, including to allow for a floor, the insertion of a mezzanine or upper floors within the overall residential floor space permitted, or internal walls, which are not prohibited by Class Q.” If something is not development, it does not need planning permission.

The PPG still includes the caveat that: “It is not the intention of the permitted development right to allow rebuilding work which would go beyond what is reasonably necessary for the conversion of the building to residential use. Therefore it is only where the existing building is already suitable for conversion to residential use that the building would be considered to have the permitted development right.” This relates to the Hibbitt High Court judgement I described in February.

The Government also announced that it would be relaxing the size limit on new agricultural buildings on larger farms (greater than 5 hectares) from 465 square metres to 1,000 square metres.

In the case of both conversions from agricultural to residential, and new agricultural buildings on larger farms, although these are permitted development, you still need to apply for prior approval. Vision Planning can do that for you. Please contact us to discuss further.

Rural Worker’s Dwellings

Do you need a new home for a worker on a farm or other rural business, to supervise livestock for example? There is a way.

Normally, new homes in the open countryside are restricted by planning rules. However, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), introduced in March 2012, includes a number of exceptions in paragraph 55. These include:
“the essential need for a rural worker to live permanently at or near their place of work in the countryside”.

This means that if you can demonstrate an essential need for someone to live on your farm or other rural business, then it should be possible to get planning permission for a new home for them to live in.

Often this will be for a temporary three year period to start with, to check that the business is viable on an ongoing basis, and then this can be turned into planning permission for a permanent dwelling.

Before the NPPF was brought it, national planning rules relating to this issue were set by PPS7, Annex A. This has now been withdrawn.

PPS7 set two tests to help planners decide whether or not to give permission: a functional test and a financial test.

The functional test would determine whether it is essential for someone to be on site at most times, for example to care for animals or deal quickly with emergencies.

The financial test determined the size of dwelling that the rural business could sustain. In other words, the more profitable the business, the bigger the house, in very general terms.

Now that PPS7 has been replaced by the NPPF, Council planners and appeal inspectors often look to PPS7 Annex A for more detail, even though it has been withdrawn. A legal judgement suggests that they shouldn’t always do so. This case is known as “Embleton” (R on the application of Embleton Parish Council and Anor v Gaston (2013) EWHC 3631 (Admin)).

The Embleton case relates to the need for a rural worker’s dwelling on an existing arable farm, to which the landowner proposed to introduce cattle rearing.

The applicant made the case that the cattle rearing generated an essential need for a rural worker’s dwelling, and the Council granted planning permission.

Embleton Parish Council amongst others challenged the planning permission in the High Court. They argued that the calf rearing part of the business was not economically viable, and that it was implicit in paragraph 55 of the NPPF that for an essential need to be demonstrated it must be economically viable.

The judge in this case noted that:
“… the test under paragraph 55 of NPPF is different from the test under Annex A, paragraph 12(iii) of PPS7. In particular I do not accept … that the NPPF requires that the proposal is economically viable…  The NPPF test simply requires a judgment of whether the proposed agricultural enterprise has an essential need for a worker to be there or near there.”

This may make it easier to get planning permission for a rural worker’s dwelling than in the past. If you would like to discuss this further, please get in touch.

Converting Agricultural Buildings to Dwellings

The conversion of agricultural buildings to up to three dwellings is sometimes allowed as permitted development.  This provides an opportunity for rural land owners to build a new house in the countryside, where planning rules are normally restrictive.  In these cases, it is still necessary to apply for “prior approval” from the local planning authority.

A High Court Judgement from November 2016 has enabled some local planning authorities to refuse prior approval applications and stop agricultural buildings being converted to housing.

If you would like to convert an existing agricultural building to a dwelling, you should read on.

The right to convert an agricultural building to up to three dwellings is permitted by Class Q of Part 3 of The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015.  This permits:

“Development consisting of—

(a) a change of use of a building and any land within its curtilage from a use as an agricultural building to a use falling within Class C3 (dwellinghouses) of the Schedule to the Use Classes Order; and

(b) building operations reasonably necessary to convert the building referred to in paragraph (a) to a use falling within Class C3 (dwellinghouses) of that Schedule.”

This means that permitted development rules allow the change of use of an agricultural building to a dwelling, along with “reasonably necessary” building works to achieve this change of use.

The permitted development right is subject to further conditions, including that:

  • the site is used solely for agricultural use on a series of specified dates;
  • the existing building and the ultimate residential building is 450m2 or smaller;
  • the new building is not extended in any way; and
  • the building is not listed or in a designated area such as a conservation area or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Condition Q.1(i) provides additional detail about what building works might be considered “reasonably necessary” by restricting permitted building works to anything other than:

(i)      “the installation or replacement of—

(aa)  windows, doors, roofs, or exterior walls, or

(bb)  water, drainage, electricity, gas or other services,

to the extent reasonably necessary for the building to function as a dwellinghouse; and

(ii)     partial demolition to the extent reasonably necessary to carry out building operations allowed by paragraph Q.1(i)(i);”

Additionally, National Planning Practice Guidance (Reference ID: 13-105-20150305) provides the following:

“The permitted development right under Class Q assumes that the agricultural building is capable of functioning as a dwelling. However, it recognises that for the building to function as a dwelling some building operations which would affect the external appearance of the building, which would otherwise require planning permission, should be permitted. The right allows for the installation or replacement of windows, doors, roofs, exterior walls, water, drainage, electricity, gas or other services to the extent reasonably necessary for the building to function as a dwelling house; and partial demolition to the extent reasonably necessary to carry out these building operations. It is not the intention of the permitted development right to include the construction of new structural elements for the building. Therefore it is only where the existing building is structurally strong enough to take the loading which comes with the external works to provide for residential use that the building would be considered to have the permitted development right.”

A High Court decision known as “Hibbitt” (Hibbitt and Another v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Rushcliffe Borough Council [2016] EWHC 2853 (Admin)) examined what this all means.

The Hibbitt Judgement concluded this type of development is permitted if it amounts to a “conversion”, but not if it amounts to a “rebuild” or a “fresh build”.  However, the Court also noted that where the line between conversion and rebuild is drawn is “a matter of legitimate planning judgement”.  In other words, it is up to the local planning authority or an appeal Inspector to decide.

This creates some uncertainty for applicants and has led to local planning authorities unexpectedly refusing prior approvals on the basis that the development amounts to a rebuild. So where does the divide lie?  The best place to look is at planning appeal decisions.

During January 2018 alone, 17 appeal decisions dealing with this type of permitted development were issued.  Seven were allowed and ten were dismissed.

From these decisions, it is possible to draw some conclusions about where Planning Inspectors draw the line between conversion and rebuild.  Of course, planning decisions are made based on a multitude of factors, so this list only provides an indication rather than a guarantee of success or failure, but in very general terms, Inspectors appear to be allowing appeals where:

  • The existing building is structurally sound.  A structural survey will be necessary if there is any doubt.
  • At least half (give or take) of the building’s sides are walled, and these walls are proposed to be retained, reused and, where necessary, reclad.  (Note that the building in the Hibbitt case was open on three sides).
  • Any new walls must be self-supporting to avoid being considered structural elements.
  • Replacement roofs are generally accepted as being part of the conversion process.
  • The existing floor must be reused.  New or replacement floors mean rebuild.

If you would like more information about converting an agricultural building to residential use, please get in touch.