Councils voice infrastructure fears after boom in barn conversions

A boom in barn conversions means that rural towns and villages are missing out on vital infrastructure and local services such as roads, schools and GP surgeries, according to councils.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said the number of agricultural to residential conversions in England has increased by nearly 230% – from 226 in 2015/16 to 743 in 2017/18.

It said that conversions, mostly in rural areas, have been taking place under the permitted development right, which allows developers to “bypass” the planning system.

Councils argued they are unable to make sure homes are built to high standards with the necessary infrastructure in place.

The LGA, which represents councils in England and Wales, said it is concerned that rural areas in particular are not being provided with the local services or infrastructure, and in some places affordable housing, that would normally be required in any development going through the planning system.

It said some of the areas seeing a high number of agricultural to residential conversions in the past year include Devon (122), Kent (71), Worcestershire (56), Herefordshire (39) and Staffordshire (29).

Previously landowners could convert agricultural buildings into three new homes without the need for planning permission but the LGA said last year this was extended to allow conversions of individual agricultural buildings into five new homes.

David Renard, the LGA’s planning spokesman, said: “We have concerns over the sharp rise in agricultural buildings being converted into homes without planning permission and the impact this is having on rural areas.”

He continued: “Permitted development rules are denying councils and communities any control or oversight of this process.

“It is taking away the voice of local residents who need to be allowed to have their say over any developments in the streets and neighbourhoods where they live.

“Unless permitted development rules are scrapped, then communities face the risk of substandard housing without any of the vital supporting infrastructure and local services which residents need on a daily basis.”

A Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government spokesman said: “Through permitted development rights nearly 1,300 much needed homes have been built in rural areas in the three years to March 2018.

“Just last month, we announced over half a billion pounds to unlock new homes by providing essential infrastructure, supporting communities and ensuring they have got the right services, roads and schools to sustain the homes needed.”