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Planning issues

Rural development

Rural development is a hot potato.  We all like living in the country.  As more folk move to get away from towns and cities, so rural communities are placed under more and more stress.  Roads that were never designed to take heavy traffic are choked with large trucks from supermarket chains, and driveres rush to work in town along roads that simply cannot handle the volume.

The Government have just released another planning discussion document aimed at seeking approval for the fact that more development in rural areas is a good thing. (Rural Planning call for evidence).  A colleague of mine who works for Historic England just emailed me with this summary of the situation:

The change on introduction of the NPPF (which replaced the old PPS planning rules) so that residential use is no longer considered inappropriate development in the Green Belt spelt the end for many agricultural buildings. Under the PPS there was an incentive to convert, without major extension or alteration. Of course the Permitted Development rights are popular – they provide a route for owners to offer very substantial houses to moneyed people, and make good profits taking agricultural land out of production. The resulting homes rarely offer the kind of property desired by locals, i.e. affordable starter homes for single workers and families.

There is no disincentive to poor maintenance of historic farm buildings, as there are also rights to demolish and replace up to similar volume, with little emphasis placed on retaining existing character. The evidence base collated must include some qualitative analysis of the resulting buildings. We should also make the case that these rights need to be amended to strengthen the requirement to retain and convert over replace (purely on sustainability grounds let alone character) and also strengthen the requirement for replacement buildings to reflect existing character. Historic England’s guidance on the conversion of traditional farm buildings is an excellent reference, but not referred to in any policy or guidance on the subject.

Another Conservation Officer I know had this to say:

The recent agricultural to residential Permitted Development changes have become the bane of rural planning authorities’ lives. The system worked perfectly well when the basis of accepting barn conversions was to find uses for redundant traditional buildings which contributed to local character and the wider landscape: everyone understood the criteria and it served its purpose in preserving buildings which were worth keeping. There is no public benefit in preserving the type of pole barns and portal framed sheds which are now clogging up the planning system and in many cases it perpetuates an active harm eg to sensitive landscapes, Listed Building settings etc. Redundant infrastructure is swept away in any other industry so why should farming be different ? The very ambiguity of the wording has made it a ‘charlatan’s charter’ for shady consultants to argue that structures without walls, which can scarcely support themselves are somehow miraculously capable of ‘conversion’. The whole measure is totally misconceived and in my authority has made no difference to the rural housing supply: not one of the schemes have been implemented because the buildings involved are not remotely plausible for residential use.

Listed buildings will (or should) always have their statutory protection.  The more Government tries to shift responsibility to local communities, and open up development in the country, the more we will see the beautiful rural character of our countryside eroded and lost.  

Works to these old farm buildings are almost always done inappropriately.  Our Building Surveys are increasingly seeing inappropriate materials such as gypsum and cement used on old farm buildings.  These create immediate problems - trapping dampness, and causing spalling and erosion of stone and brick.  Vast expanses of smooth modern plaster cover the walls of old barns and houses - often deteriorating rapidly within a period of a few years.  We are getting calls from people with converted barns that are now deteriorating significantly - all because the wrong materials have been used.

It is the old hot potato - solutions are always simple - use traditional materials and you won't have a problem.  Use modern materials at your peril.  Our Historic Building Surveys assess the materials used and look to the effect they are having on the structure. We advise on how to correct issues, and what materials to use.  We look at approximate costs, and where to source appropriate skills.  If you are looking to purchase an old building, or converted barn, make sure you use a surveyor who understands old buildings and the materials they are built with. Our practise has all these skills, and more.

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