Barn Conversion – Hyde Farm, Denchworth

Barn Conversion - Hyde Farm, Denchworth

Image Credit – Mathewson Waters Architects

Impact Planning Services Ltd (IPS) has successfully reinstated permission for a barn conversion to single residential dwelling following mistaken demolition.

Site History

The conversion and extension of a former barn to a residential unit had been granted in 2017. The site was purchased by the Applicants with the benefit of permission for conversion in early 2018. The permitted scheme allowed for the conversion of one barn to the west and demolition of a redundant concrete barn to the east and the construction of a new build annexe. The planning application had however been supported with a structural survey demonstrating that the conversion was feasible. The purchasers also commissioned two further structural surveys prior to acquisition. These surveys provided sufficient “comfort” that conversion would be feasible prior to completion.

At the commencement of construction the building contractor sought advice from the local authority’s Building Control Officer, who upon inspecting the building’s footings advised that new foundations would be necessary. Both agreed that the existing building should be dismantled and reassembled following the provision of adequate foundations. The subsequent comprehensive demolition works however attracted the attention of a third party who reported the matter to the local planning authority. This was then followed by a site visit by the enforcement officer. That led to advice that as a consequence of the demolition, continued construction work would be in breach of planning control i.e. that the permitted conversion scheme was no longer capable of implementation and that reconstruction amounted to “new build” development. The new owners were advised to stop all further work.

The site owners and their building contractor were completely unaware of the risk to the planning permission for conversion in the event of total demolition. Whatever “due diligence” had taken place prior to acquisition it was obvious that both the legal and construction advice received had not extended to identify the potential risk associated with barn conversions and the extent of reconstruction.

Planning Application

IPS was requested to advise and submitted an application to reinstate the residential permission on the site as an entirely newbuild project. This is notwithstanding the number of similar cases which have been considered at appeal and generally failed where new build proposals were regarded as contrary to policy – beyond settlement limits and therefore regarded as within open countryside. In the absence of qualifying (occupancy) circumstances therefore, such proposals had little prospect for success, even in the light of the fact that permission had existed for a dwelling (albeit through conversion) at the site. Gaining permission for the property was a policy-based challenge as well as carefully balanced argument.

All images are credited to Mathewson Waters Architects.

Case for the Applicants

The appearance and scale of the scheme remained identical to that previously permitted; essentially the same scheme. The earlier permission was based upon up to 57% of the development being new build and 43% conversion (based on floor space) – a greater proportion of the site representing new development.

Importantly it became clear from the site’s planning history that a Certificate of Lawful Use or Development (CLUED) had been earlier granted for the former barn. This had established a Class B2 (General Industrial) use for car repairs and workshop. In the absence of a planning permission for residential development therefore, an option for the owners to recoup a small proportion of the loss through promotion of the site for employment redevelopment. In addition, a Class B2 use, if implemented by the applicants, would be an unneighbourly and potentially disruptive activity within an approved enclave of surrounding residential development.

The planning officer favoured this view within their report, giving weight to the existing:

“residential development immediately to the north and south of the site. It is considered that lawful commercial B2 use and the movements associated with this would have a greater impact on the amenities of neighbouring properties in terms of noise and disturbance compared to a residential use.”

Following research it immediately became apparent that the new owners were at risk of losing a substantial amount of money already paid for the site. It was also unlikely that the financial circumstances of the owners could be regarded as capable of demonstrating a personal “hardship” pleading. Working with our colleagues, Bevirs Law, we also established the significant financial loss by the applicants as a result of the breach of planning permission and the loss of the permission for a residential dwelling. This depreciation amounted to over £320,000; a significant sum for a young couple who were purchasing their first property. This was afforded material weight in the planning balance.

IPS presented a strong case on behalf of our clients, successfully arguing that on balance the individual circumstances of this proposal are quite distinct from those associated with a genuinely isolated rural location and the individual merits of the proposal clearly would outweigh any residual harm. Favourable and recent case law (Court of Appeal ref: C1/2017/3292 [2018] EWCA Civ 610) also was identified. This tackled the issue as to what was actually meant by the term “isolated new dwellings in the countryside” as expressed previously within paragraph 55 of the NPPF (now 79). National policy seeks to avoid such development unless compliant with a limited range of exceptions.

The case made clear that the term “isolated” was not applicable to all circumstances beyond defined settlement boundaries and that the decision-maker could take into account close proximity to other development in the form of small clusters of rural housing and not necessarily associated with any specific level or extent of social infrastructure, access to public transport etc. In this case the site formed part of an enclave of rural buildings and residential property – some also the subject of barn conversion permission. The planning officer’s report concurred with this view, stating;

‘….it is acknowledged that the site is previously developed land, and that the proposed residential development will significantly visually enhance the rural setting and have a lesser impact on the adjacent residential development. Furthermore, the proposed dwelling will replicate the previously approved conversion in terms of overall layout, scale, design and appearance.’

Conclusion

IPS was pleased to assist a young couple, local to the area, in achieving the reinstatement of their dream. This has now led to the exciting prospect of a self-build property to become established in a rural setting by owners, local to the Denchworth area. IPS is delighted to have been part of a successful case bidding for local people’s aspirations to self-build in their local area, as well as promoting the sustainable development of housing.

This application and unique circumstances demonstrate the importance of due diligence prior to the purchase of a property and the need to understand the associated surveys and searches completed. Because the former barn had been demolished in its entirety, due to the particulars of the site and buildings not fully being understood, the approved conversion scheme has not been implemented and the Applicants were in breach of their planning permission. The reinstatement of this consent by IPS was a complex process, which could have been avoided.

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