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Government's worst idea yet?

November 10, 2013 12:00 PM
By Trevor Carbin

The government has put forward several ideas to streamline the planning system and make life easier for developers. One suggestion is that anyone wishing to convert a barn in the countryside to residential use should be able to do so under 'permitted development rights' - that is, without the need for planning permission.

If you think that's a good idea then next time you go for a walk across the fields of Wiltshire look at the number of old barns around and imagine each one converted into a detached executive house, complete with access road, security fencing, parking areas etc.

The government has just done a consultation exercise on this and other proposals, and Wiltshire Council planners have given a forthright response. Here's what they said:

Question: Do you agree there should be permitted development rights, as proposed, for existing buildings used for agricultural purposes to change use to a dwelling house (C3) and to carry out building work connected with the change of use?

WC Answer: "This is by far the worst of the proposals with the potential for a devastating Impact on the countryside. Already, the mere suggestion of it is leading to a drop in potential economic activity as landowners and their agents are not pursuing the earlier permitted development rights for employment use as the potential to convert to residential offers a more lucrative return.
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) promotes sustainable development - but how is allowing new houses in the countryside in any way sustainable? Wiltshire is a rural county with many barns and agricultural buildings in isolated locations. Converting these to houses means that any children will need to be provided with a school bus service at more cost to the local taxpayer.

How does this marry with the statutory duty on public bodies in areas of outstanding natural beauty to protect the landscape for its beauty if every tin barn in the countryside can suddenly become a dwelling?
How does this comply with the policies in the NPPF to protect the openness of the green belt?
How will World Heritage Sites, such as the rural Avebury and Stonehenge WHS be protected from inappropriate housing development - this runs the risk of putting such designations at risk - has UNESCO been consulted?
There are huge numbers of barns, many of them open sided with no roofs or sides in isolated positions in the middle of fields that will suddenly be available for demolition and rebuilding to houses - with a concommitant adverse impact on the character and appearance of the countryside.

One of the main planks of national and local planning policy since 1947 has been the desire to protect the character and appearance of the rural landscape for future generations by resisting housing development in inappropriate locations.
This proposal would overturn this and would spoil the countryside for generations to come.

This is simply a completely unacceptable proposal and one that should be ditched now. It flies completely in the face of the NPPF and makes a mockery of its introduction less than 2 years ago and its claim to be about the golden thread of sustainable development.

The economic disbenefits of the proposed permitted development rights for the change of use of agricultural buildings to dwellings should not be underestimated. These include loss of potential employment in rural areas as barns suitable for re-use for rural employment are instead used for housing. This simply means that those living in rural areas have even less access to employment opportunities as these will be more concentrated than ever in towns - and this at a time when rural bus services to towns are declining as subsidies are cut. Meanwhile, Councils will have to run more school buses at an increasing cost to the local taxpayer to take children from these remote locations to the nearest school.
Then there is the economic hit from the potential reduction in tourism - rural areas will simply become less attractive to those seeking walking holidays and open countryside if every barn in the landscape is recreated as a dwelling. This is going the way of the Irish planning system where the countryside has been blighted by numerous houses and bungalows dotting the countryside.

Government aims to increase sustainability and cut carbon emissions down will also be adversely affected - people will simply have to travel by private car to reach services - using more fossil fuel and clogging up roads into town centres.
The existing planning system has provided a pretty good balance in protecting the character and appearance of the countryside from intrusion from unwarranted residential development, whilst fostering diversification of the agricultural economy into business use. This proposal tips the balance the other way and removes the protection that has served the country well for decades.
It is unwarranted, unjustifiable and unacceptable."


Meanwhile The Times reports that David Cameron is facing a revolt in more than 30 Conservative constituencies after reneging on a pledge to give ordinary people the power to block unwanted housing developments in their back yards. Mr Cameron and two other cabinet ministers - William Hague and Jeremy Hunt - have been hit by protests in their own constituencies against unpopular developments, following the Government's introduction of a new "presumption in favour of sustainable development". The problem has come to a head, because speculators are targeting villages in Conservative heartlands where inadequate councils have failed to draw up housing plans.

The Sunday Times 10/11/13, Page: 1, 22