Grand Design plans mired for seven years: stuck with crumbling barn

... now they’re threatened with eviction

Barn conversion

Stephen Bilney and Veronica Whittard had high hopes they could transform a crumbling barn into a Grand Design - dramatically mixing the ancient and the modern - to impress visitors and neighbours alike. Sadly, things have gone wrong from day one, and now they face the risk of eviction.

The couple bought the Grade II listed barn on Ty-Anon Farm for £160,000 in 2009, and Veronica (53), who works in IT, told the Gloucester Citizen that they ran into difficulties straight away. They had issues about access to the land, so had to go to the Land Registry for a solution - which took them until 2014.

Once that was sorted, they started work, but then they ran into problems with drainage - which have held the project back ever since.

It doesn't help that Stephen (56), who works in defence, is doing most of the work himself, by hand, because they want to use traditional techniques. It means that progress is incredibly slow.

Eviction threat

Seven years after the couple bought it, the barn is still a crumbling wreck, and the couple is still living in a caravan on the site.

Things are bad enough for the couple - who are struggling with the practicalities of caravan life - but they could get even worse. Far from being impressed by their home, the Daily Mail reports that some locals are convinced that the couple aren't intending to do anything at all, and are calling for their eviction. They say the site is a mess, and the project is a rouse to let them live in a caravan on the site.

However, Stephen submitted a schedule of proposed works to a planning committee, which ruled that it was feasible, and gave them two more years to complete the barn. They will have to make a substantial difference in the first twelve months to convince the committee that the timetable is realistic. If they over-run, then the caravan will have to be removed from the site, and they will need to find somewhere else to live.

The couple told the paper they were confident they could meet the planning requirements in plenty of time. Veronica added that whoever thought they were keen to carry on living in the caravan clearly had never done so themselves.

Would you do it?

It goes to show just how big a project a barn conversion can be. Technically they are a cheaper project than building a home from scratch - but it depends to an enormous extent what you have to start with, and can work out far more expensive than a new build.

If the barn is structurally unsound, you will need to do a great deal of work to repair what is there - long before you make any progress on the conversion. This can often throw up an enormous number of unexpected costs at the start of the project.

If the barn is still on a working farm, there may also be issues with access - especially if you share access with the farm.

Because you are changing the purpose of the building, you need to consider running services, including water and electricity, to what may be a very remote area.

Planning issues can be tricky too, as they may be sensitive locally, and there may be several restrictions in place. One of the inherent problems with barns is a lack of windows, so if you want to bring in a lot of light, you will have to make bigger changes and expect more planning issues. Going through a planning process with these possible hiccups means there may be costly delays while you come to an agreement with the planners and your neighbours.

Then there's a question of scale. As this couple found, a stand-alone barn will often be on such a huge scale that it can be incredibly expensive to renovate. It may well be far bigger than any home you would otherwise have built yourself.

There are plenty of smaller barns available on the market, but these will often feature a number of barns around a courtyard, and you will need to think carefully whether communal living around a courtyard is something that will suit you.

But what do you think? Would you fancy taking a barn conversion on - or does it would like more trouble than it's worth? Let us know in the comments.

Grand Designs home built for £400,000 goes on sale for £2.25m

Grand Designs home built for £400,000 goes on sale for £2.25m

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