New dwellings judged preferable to barn conversions

Replacing two barns in the Somerset countryside with two new dwellings would produce a better result than a fallback option allowing their residential conversion, an inspector has decided.

The inspector was satisfied that the proposed dwellings would enhance the area’s appearance and character and would not detract from the significance of a listed farmhouse nearby. On the other hand, she considered that the location was inappropriate and contrary to the local plan settlement strategy, since future occupiers would be reliant on cars to reach services and facilities.

However, the inspector also took into account the council’s decision in 2018 to grant prior approval for conversion of one of the barns to two dwellings under Class Q of the GPDO and planning permission to use the remainder of the site in connection with these dwellings. She saw a real prospect of this fallback position being implemented.

She noted that the class Q prior approval mechanism does not allow consideration of the sustainability of a location. Nevertheless, she reasoned, both the appeal proposal and the approved scheme would result in two new dwellings in the same unsustainable location, with the former having no greater impact than the latter in relation to the development plan strategy for housing in the countryside.

The inspector noted that the council had not imposed conditions on removing other existing outbuildings at the site or on improved landscaping in its previous decisions. If those permissions were implemented, she saw no certainty that they would deliver the significant benefits to the site’s appearance that would result from the appeal scheme. She concluded that the appeal scheme represented an improvement on a realistic fallback position and this outweighed conflict with the plan’s locational policies.