Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Rusty sheds have real estate potential

September 30, 2016 by  
Filed under Fen Tiger


Money can be made by converting redundant farm buildings into something useful. But not for Fen Tiger.

Looking back, I suppose we have all made mistakes somewhere along our farming careers – and mine mainly seem to involve old buildings.

We’ve knocked down old farm buildings – sometimes even old houses – to make way for that extra concrete beet pad or to make the farmyard bigger. And maybe in some cases we’ve even built something we shouldn’t have.

Not so many years ago, eight to ten telegraph or electric poles delivered free from the local utility firm made a good lean-to when built on to the side of a grain store and topped with a few hundred sheets of corrugated tin.

Permitted development

If you were flush enough, you could add a brick wall around the base, concrete the floor and create an emergency grain store. Those who did and those who kept their sheds now find that their eyesore of a farmyard may come under permitted development rights.

There are three main uses to which an agricultural building can change under these rights. These are flexible, educational and residential use. All these uses are of interest to farmers and landowners but buildings for residential use especially so.

Subject to certain conditions and restrictions, agricultural buildings and land within their area may be converted. I believe the maximum floor space that may be converted under these permitted rights is 450 metre squared of floor space.

The total number of new houses which may be developed under this right is three. But permitted development rights stop if the total floor space is exceeded. An existing farmhouse does not count towards the total of three unless it was created under the permitted rights, in which it does.

It all seems pretty straightforward. But where I start to raise concern is the building work allowed when changing to residential use. That’s because the legislation assumes that the agricultural building is capable of functioning as a dwelling.

External appearance

The legislation recognises that the building will need work which will obviously affect the external appearance – and these changes would otherwise require conventional planning permission.

But if new structural elements are required, these may not fall under the permitted rights. In fact, permitted development rights are allowed only where the existing building is structurally strong to take additional works.

So let us consider the farm buildings within a five-mile radius of my back yard. Extra income is welcome at this time for all farmers and I understand the need to make these assets work. And there have been maybe 10 applications under these rights during the past two years.

Most applications have been passed locally. But were these buildings really structurally sound and convertible? Most at best are rusty sheds, falling down and uncared for. A clever draughtsman no doubt can turn them into a wonderful eco friendly building but at what cost?

Permitted development rights are certainly an easy route for farmers and landowners to turn a quick profit – if indeed they can sell the buildings afterwards. As yet, there seems plenty of interest but it is notable that none of these buildings has yet been sold.

I flag up these potential problems only because my old farmyard was “cleansed” years ago. We removed the old buildings and the redundant cart sheds and filled the space with a vast expanse of concrete. Oh, the benefit of hindsight!

Proposed site

In addition to all these regulations, the proposed site must have been used solely for agricultural purposes, as part of an established unit on 20 March 2013. It is notable that different rules apply after that date.

So does this agricultural use qualify if a few old implements are placed in the sheds as proof that the building is being used? If the implements appear a few months prior and disappear a few months after consent what does this suggest?

And do local planning officers even care? It appears not in my county. Or perhaps their hands are tied by the precise wording of these new rights? Government figures suggest that around 43% of agricultural applications are refused in some regions.

According to the Country Land and Business Association, landowners want to ease the housing crisis in the countryside,of course they do they have the assets and need the extra income! It is an opportunity to grab while it lasts.

So through gritted teeth I congratulate all my untidy neighbours for keeping their old buildings in agricultural production. Really I do. I am not sure I agree with the process but I certainly wish I still had some old rusty sheds of my own.