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‘Conversion’ or ‘Rebuilding’ – High Court Sets Dividing Line

Where does the dividing line between ‘converting’ and ‘rebuilding’ a property lie? The High Court analysed that issue in a case concerning a steel-framed cow barn that its owners wished to turn into a dwelling pursuant to permitted development rights.

BarnThe substantial barn was largely open on three sides. Whilst its steel frame, roof and floor slab would be retained, turning it into a dwelling would require construction of walls on all four sides and numerous other major works. The owners argued that the project did not require planning permission in that it was a permitted development under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015. Class Q of that order permits building operations that are reasonably necessary to convert an agricultural building into a dwelling house.

It was not disputed that the barn was an agricultural building that was structurally capable of withstanding the load of the development and that the proposed works were reasonably necessary to turn it into a home. However, the local authority refused to grant prior consent for the development. Its decision was subsequently upheld by a planning inspector, who found that the barn would not be capable of functioning as a dwelling house without substantial building works that went well beyond what could be reasonably described as a conversion.

In rejecting the landowners’ appeal against the inspector’s decision, the Court found that her analysis was correct and that she did not misdirect herself in concluding that the works proposed would be so extensive as to comprise rebuilding the barn. They were thus not covered by permitted development rights and the project required full planning permission.