Application for conversion of barns approved despite repeated requests for withdrawal

Our application for the redevelopment of 4 former agricultural buildings has been approved by Mid-Suffolk District Council following multiple calls for its withdrawal and the case officer stating they "cannot see a way forward apart from refusal of the application."

The proposal concerned the demolition of two of the buildings and the conversion of the others to create two single-storey dwellings. It was accepted in the supporting documents that the buildings had been in unlawful commercial use and that some of the buildings were still being used commercially at the time of application. As such, the site had been the subject of a recent enforcement enquiry. Not only did the proposal seek to make use of former agricultural buildings but it also sought to rectify the enforcement issue.

Policy H9 of the adopted Mid-Suffolk local plan allows for the conversion of rural buildings to dwellings. Such re-use is also supported by the NPPF. The case officer disputed compliance with policy H9 citing that the buildings were "not of any historic or architectural merit to be worthy of retention/conversion" and that "although policy H9 allows for conversion of rural buildings in principle, they need be of some interest, architecturally, historically or visually." The officer went on to say that the application would therefore be refused.

Policy H9 clearly contains no requirement for buildings to be of historic or architectural importance in order to be eligible for conversion. In fact, such a policy would be contrary to the NPPF. As such, this stance was contested and our position was supported by similar applications in the district which had been approved in accordance with policy H9 yet were clearly of no architectural or historic importance. The council's response was that those applications had relied upon a reasonable prospect of Class Q as a fallback position which negated the need to demonstrate architectural or historic importance and, in the case of our application, the recent commercial use meant there was no Class Q fallback. It is clear however that there is no requirement to demonstrate a reasonable prospect of Class Q in order that an application can be supported by an adopted policy with which it is compliant.

The local plan which formed the basis of the proposed refusal was adopted in 1998. It was put to the local authority that the plan is badly outdated, and the policies clearly ambiguous due to the way in which they had been applied in this instance. This is contrary to paragraphs 15 and 16 of the NPPF. The NPPF states that plans should “contain policies that are clearly written and unambiguous, so it is evident how a decision maker should react to development proposals.” A similar view was taken by an inspector in an Uttlesford appeal case recently in which the inspector held, "there can be little doubt that the local plan is now painfully out of date in terms of its purpose, its strategy, its content and its housing delivery policies. It does not meet the NPPF requirement for the council to have an up-to-date plan and it is clearly not a strong foundation upon which to refuse planning permission."

We were ultimately able to reach agreement with the council following minor amendments to boundary treatments and curtilage and the application was subsequently approved.

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