New Government policy helps turn granny annexes into separate homes

The Government has just updated its rules making it easier to get planning permission to turn a “granny annexe” into a separate dwelling.

The Government sets out national planning rules in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The NPPF was updated in July.

One change relates to granny annexes, i.e. a building within the garden of a house that provides additional accommodation space for a relative, an office or a holiday let. These annexes normally include conditions restricting their use as a separate dwelling, but the new NPPF makes it easier to get these conditions removed, and use them or sell them as a separate dwelling.

Paragraph 79 of the new NPPF restricts “the development of isolated homes in the countryside” unless a series of conditions are met. One of these is that there is an essential need for a rural worker to live there (see earlier blogs), but the new condition allows “the subdivision of an existing residential dwelling.”

An application to remove a condition restricting the use of an annexe as a separate dwelling was refused and taken to appeal recently. The Inspector decided that the new paragraph 79 meant that national planning policy allowed the use of the annexe as a separate house, so they allowed the appeal.

If you have a house in the countryside, and you have an annexe or holiday home in the garden, there is a chance that you could now get planning permission to use it as a separate dwelling.

Get in touch with Vision Planning to find out more.

Court Judgement makes getting permission for new homes in some small villages easier

A recent Court of Appeal Judgement may make it easier to get planning permission for small housing developments in small villages.

The Court of Appeal’s decision focussed on the meaning of the word “isolated” in paragraph 55 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). This notes that “Local planning authorities should avoid new isolated homes in the countryside unless there are special circumstances”. A number of potential special circumstances are then listed, which includes dwellings for rural workers.

This is important because development outside defined settlement boundaries is described as being in the “open countryside”. Councils often assume that a development in the open countryside must be isolated, so they refuse the application partly based on paragraph 55 of the NPPF.

The Court of Appeal has determined that this is wrong, and that “the word “isolated” in the phrase “isolated homes in the countryside” simply connotes a dwelling that is physically separate or remote from a settlement.”

When does this matter?

This matters if there are too few homes being built in the local area.

Where the local Council cannot demonstrate an adequate five year housing land supply, then policies in the Council’s development plan that restrict housing cannot be relied upon. Instead, the decision is made based on the NPPF.

If a council can argue that the NPPF restricts development because it would result in “new isolated homes in the open countryside” then they can still refuse a planning application based on the NPPF, even if they don’t have enough housing supply.

The Court of Appeal Judgement means they can’t always make this argument. A development in a small village, even one without a settlement boundary, should not be considered to be isolated.

Vision Planning can help you find out whether or not the local Council can demonstrate an adequate five year housing land supply. If you want to get planning permission for a house or two in a small village, even one without a settlement boundary, please get in touch.

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.

What does the Housing Delivery Test mean? And whatever happened to Housing Market Areas?

Has anyone wondered what the new Housing Delivery Test would mean in practical terms?

And has anyone spotted that the draft revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) doesn’t mention Housing Market Areas?

The old NPPF, if we can call it that already, required local planning authorities “to use their evidence base to ensure that their Local Plan meets the full, objectively assessed needs for market and affordable housing in the housing market area.”

The new draft says “strategic plans should, as a minimum, provide for objectively assessed needs for housing and other development, as well as any needs that cannot be met within neighbouring areas.”  The implication being that there will be a single housing requirement for each local authority area.  This coincides with the way that the standardised approach to determining housing need was proposed in September 2017.

In many areas, the housing market area (HMA) does not coincide with the local authority boundary.  Take Wiltshire and Swindon for example.

Wiltshire is a single unitary authority.  Its adopted Core Strategy sets a housing requirement across the authority of 42,000 dwellings between 2006 and 2026.  But, because the authority area is so large, it is split into three HMAs: East Wiltshire, with a requirement of 5,940 dwellings; North & West Wiltshire, with a requirement of 24,740 dwellings; and East Wiltshire, with a requirement of 10,420 dwellings.  To avoid you needing to search for the calculator, these are 297; 1,237 and 521 dwellings per year respectively.  The remaining 900 dwellings relate to West of Swindon, and meet Swindon’s needs rather than Wiltshire’s.

Swindon Borough is currently its own HMA.  Its Local Plan requires the delivery of 22,000 dwellings between 2011 and 2026, at a rate of 1,150 dwellings per year up to 2016, and 1,625 per year after that.

Appeal Inspectors have recently concluded that Swindon’s supply is less than 3 years, South Wiltshire HMA’s supply is a little below 5 years, the North and West Wiltshire HMA’s supply is slightly above 5 years, and East Wiltshire HMA’s supply is well above 5 years.  On that basis, the tilted balance in the current paragraph 14 is triggered in Swindon, sometimes in South Wiltshire, rarely in North and West Wiltshire and never in East Wiltshire, generalising somewhat!

Swindon and Wiltshire Councils are working together to produce a joint spatial framework into which their next local plans (covering the 2016 to 2036 period) will fit.

They have released a joint Strategic Housing Market Area Assessment which defines four housing market areas, relating to Swindon, Chippenham, Salisbury and Trowbridge.  The identified housing need in each is, respectively: 29,000; 22,250; 8,250 and 13,500 in total, or 1,450; 1,113; 413 and 675 dwellings per year.

This means that the two current local plans combined require the delivery of 3,725 per year between 2016 and 2026, and the emerging joint work proposes 3,650 dwellings per year between 2016 and 2036.

One of the repercussions of the joint strategy is that some of Swindon’s housing need could be met in Wiltshire.  This would clearly help bearing in mind Swindon’s poor housing delivery rate in recent years.

Now let’s look at the standardised housing need numbers released in September 2017.

If the methodology was unchanged from the draft, Wiltshire would be required to provide 2,227 dwellings per year, and Swindon 1,021 dwellings per year.  This totals 3,248 dwellings per year; substantially below both the Councils’ current target and their future targets based on their own independent evidence.

The new NPPF proposes that the tilted balance in the new paragraph 11 will apply if either the LPA cannot demonstrate a five year housing land supply or where delivery over the past three years was below 75% of the requirement.

The new NPPF then explains that a five year supply can be demonstrated where it has been produced through engagement with developers and considered by the Secretary of State, I assume via an appeal.  It seems unlikely that Swindon would pass this test; Wiltshire might if it was assessed authority wide.

The draft Housing Delivery Test methodology set out in the Housing White Paper proposed to use ONS housing delivery data to determine housing delivery in the past three years.  In the most recent three years for which data is currently available (2014-15 to 2016-17), Wiltshire has delivered an annual average of 2,253 dwellings; Swindon has delivered 569 dwellings annually, on average.

On the basis of the standardised housing need methodology, this means Wiltshire met 101% of its target; Swindon 56%.  Swindon would therefore not meet the Housing Delivery Test target of 75% and paragraph 11 would be triggered on this basis, as well as on the basis of 5 year supply.

However, the NPPF proposes “implementation” to transition the Housing Delivery Test in gradually.  This sets the target for November 2018 at 25% and for November 2019 at 45%.  Swindon would pass this test.

So we have a situation where Swindon has a housing delivery problem now.  In order to fix it, it is working with Wiltshire to define the overall housing need for the two authorities, and to define housing market areas in which to meet that need.  Wiltshire will probably take some of Swindon’s housing in order to help meet the overall need.

The regime now proposed in the new NPPF means that, while the tilted balance will probably be triggered in Swindon because of its low five year supply, it may well meet the Housing Delivery Test, during the implementation period at least.

On the same basis, the tilted balance is unlikely to be triggered across the whole of Wiltshire, even in the South Wiltshire HMA.

The new NPPF requires future plans to be based on the standard housing need methodology “unless there are exceptional circumstances that justify an alternative approach which also reflects current and future demographic trends and market signals.”  These exceptional circumstances appear to exist in Wiltshire and Swindon, and probably elsewhere too.

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.