Changes to Planning Regulations relating to barn conversions

In April 2014 there were a number of changes to national planning legislation which affect how proposals for development are determined by local planning authorities.

The coalition government believes that a larger range of changes of use should be considered as permitted development with the proviso that a process of Prior Approval for certain planning considerations of the development are first submitted to the council for determination as to their acceptability. This in effect creates a streamlined "mini" planning application where the council has 56 days to determine the acceptability of the matters that have to be submitted for Prior Approval.

Whilst the prior approval process has existed for some time, the system has been expanded to cover other changes of use including barn conversions. However, permitted development rights to convert barns to residential use do not apply in National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or Conservation areas to help safeguard the special qualities of these areas. Therefore, if you hope to convert a barn to residential use in these areas you will still need to follow the usual planning procedure.

These changes have prompted clients to ask for clarification as to whether bat, owl or other protected species surveys are still required before carrying out any barn conversion works. The answer is YES!

The protection afforded to bats and other species is unchanged by the introduction of wider permitted development rights. Government has confirmed that all works under permitted development are required to meet necessary habitats and environmental legislation and regulations.

Whilst not expressly referred to as one of the prior approval issues for the council to consider, ecology remains a key factor in the conversion of buildings. The DCLG has said that "All changes under permitted development are required to meet necessary habitats and environmental legislation and regulations" and Section 40 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 (NERC) requires all public bodies to have regard to biodiversity conservation when carrying out their functions. In the exercise of its functions local planning authorities are also required to have regard to the requirements of The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended) (Habitats Regulations).

Prior approval applications are determined with regard to the requirements of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which requires decisions to take proper regard of protected species. Accordingly, a prior approval application will normally need to be accompanied by an appropriate assessment of the potential impact upon protected species and a mitigation strategy if there are protected species at risk of harm from the development.

In addition, you should bear in mind that whether or not a survey has been requested for your project, you have a duty to satisfy yourself that protected species will not be affected by ANY building works. If, for example, bats are disturbed during works those commissioning the work AND those carrying it out are both liable for prosecution. This could result in substantial fines and/or imprisonment. These are absolute offences - claiming ignorance is not a defence. 

Please note that this is intended as a rough guide and is not an authoritative statement of the law or what will or will not require permission. If you require further advice consult your planning authority or a legal professional.