The announcement by Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles outlines a wide-ranging loosening of planning controls removing the need to apply for planning permission to convert:
- redundant farm buildings into a range of business uses, including shops and restaurants;
- office space into housing (for up to 3 years); and
- between offices, restaurants or shops (for up to two years).
CPRE is urging the Government to ensure that the conversion of farm buildings is not abused as they can already be constructed without applying for planning permission. The suggestion that the Government will later in the summer relax controls over converting them into housing is particularly alarming.
CPRE is calling for Ministers to reform planning controls over agricultural buildings so that landowners are required to apply for planning permission in the same way as any other form of development. Otherwise there is the danger of unleashing on the countryside a wave of unsightly and intrusive development of farm buildings that could be turned into houses at a later date . CPRE supports the building of more new housing in the countryside, particularly affordable housing that helps to sustain village communities. But deregulating the use of agricultural buildings is more likely to lead to sporadic, speculative development.
Paul Miner, Senior Planning Campaigner for CPRE, says:
‘The Government has stepped back somewhat from its original proposals, which would have been damaging to the countryside if introduced. But we are alarmed to learn that Ministers plan yet more changes to chip away at the planning controls that have effectively protected our countryside from intrusive development for over 50 years. This would be a clear break with the Government’s own policy to prevent sporadic development in the open countryside.’ 
Paul Miner concluded: ‘If agricultural buildings are going to be allowed to change use like any other building, then there should be the same controls over building them in the first place. The special pleading of rural landowners for planning exemptions looks increasingly difficult to defend given these proposals.’
Notes to Editors
 The Ministerial statement is at http://bit.ly/15rZSyR. Further details of recent local cases where unsympathetic or inappropriate conversions of agricultural buildings have damaged the countryside are available from CPRE’s press office.
 The National Planning Policy Framework, published in March 2012, maintains policies against isolated new housing in the countryside which have been an established feature of planning policy since the 1940s. In the Government’s press statement today, Ministers have said that conversions of agricultural buildings above ‘a specific size’ will be subject to a degree of local authority control through a prior approval process, but have not provided further details. CPRE believes that all agricultural building conversions should be subject to some form of local control, as in many cases they have impacts on surrounding road, properties and on the beauty and tranquillity of the countryside generally. Safeguards should also be provided to prevent farm buildings being put up with the specific object of becoming housing at a later date. Our full response to the earlier Government consultation, available from CPRE’s press office, gives further details.