Row of cows at farm in Shropshire

Diversification – Residential Conversions

03/08/20Diversification – Residential Conversions

If you are a landowner or farmer, one of the most popular ways to diversify is to convert redundant farm buildings into houses. These can either be as long-term rentals, sold off to private owners or rented as holiday homes. Such a project can either be done by the existing owner, or through a purchase deal with a developer.

Points to remember

Getting planning permissions on agricultural land can be very difficult indeed, but if you already have structures onsite, the process is considerably simpler. The first thing you will have to look at is the viability of any project on the building. Some areas have conservation orders and other prohibitive criteria that may limit or suppress any extensive development in the area. This type of legislation is quite common in rural villages or areas of outstanding natural beauty, for example, to prevent over-development or the loss of a location’s intrinsic historical and aesthetic integrity.

Changing with the times

You will also have to secure a Change of Use. In recent years, this area has been considerably relaxed. Before April 2018 in England, Permitted Development Rights (PDR) would only allow agricultural buildings to be converted into three homes. This has now been amended to up to five. This was partially seen as a recognition of the need for more homes in rural areas and partly as a stimulus for the farming sector to explore and consider moving towards diversification. If the property to be converted is situated on an agricultural tenancy, both the landlord and the tenant must agree on the conversion. You can either undertake the project management of the conversion yourself, or engage a construction partner to oversee and carry out the programme.

Whoever carries out the development and project manages the conversion will need to be aware that the only building work that can be carried is that defined as reasonably necessary. The permitted work – deemed ‘reasonable alteration’ – includes partial demolition, and the installation or replacement of windows, doors, roofs, exterior walls, water, drainage, electricity, gas or other services. You can’t simply bulldoze the existing buildings, however poor a state of repair they are in, and start afresh from scratch. Any development will usually have to be in keeping with the building’s original external appearance.  

Sizing up the situation

You also need to think about the size of the accommodation. A larger building can be converted into a row of individual dwellings, in the mews style. Stable blocks in particular lend themselves to this style of conversion. Of the five homes now permitted, up to three can be defined as ‘larger homes’ – that is a floorspace between 100 and 465 square metres. ‘Smaller homes’ are those with a floor area below 100 square metres. As a result of Permitted Development Rights, you can carry out certain types of work without needing to apply for planning permission. They are subject to a more general planning permission granted by the government, not by the local authority but by Parliament, providing you are staying within the building’s original footprint.

If the development is more extensive, with extensions and other additions, you’ll need to apply for planning permission in the same way any developer would. You also need to check if you need prior approval, before a Change of Use project starts. This is required in cases where there may be issues of noise or traffic, or other environmental impacts that can affect inhabitants and environments in the vicinity.


If you have existing outbuildings that you think might be able to suitable for conversion into living accommodation, then please get in touch [link]. Our expert surveyors can give you advice on your first steps towards achieving your goal.

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