Essex farmers frustrated by councils’ planning stance on barn conversions


23 March 2016

By Keri Constantatou

Farmers and landowners in Essex are being frustrated in their attempts to convert old agricultural buildings to much-needed homes in the countryside.

Recently published figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) reveal that almost 45 percent of agricultural to residential planning applications made in the county in 2015 were refused. This compares to an average refusal rate of 43 percent across the CLA’s eastern region during the same period.

The applications were made under the relaxed planning regime of Permitted Development Rights (PDR), which has been designed and implemented by the Government in order to make it easier to convert buildings to other uses, such as old barns to homes.

CLA East Regional Surveyor Claire Wright said: “Rural landowners want to help ease the major housing crisis we’re experiencing in the countryside, but we consistently find local planning authorities standing in the way of the conversion of agricultural buildings into new residential properties.

“The CLA has made real progress by securing from Government clear guidance that makes it easier for planning authorities to know when to allow these conversions.

“However, a good majority of local planning authorities appear to be blocking permitted development applications for a number of varying reasons. In some parts of our region we have seen refusal rates not just above average, such as in Essex, but of 50 percent or more. This only serves to set back the aspirations of young people, retiring farmers, and rural workers who need homes to live in.

“This continuing trend of refused applications hasn’t been lost on landowners and farmers, who are becoming increasingly frustrated by inconsistent decisions. This is reflected in DCLG’s figures, which shows that applications for agricultural to residential changes dropped by 20 percent in the final three months of 2015.

  Agricultural to residential: applications for Prior Approvals for PDR by county in the CLA’s eastern region:

Lincolnshire 18 percent 54 percent 28 percent
Cambridgeshire 7.2 61.3 31.5
Northamptonshire 3 64 33
Suffolk 9.8 50 40.2
Essex 31.4 24.1 44.5
Norfolk 12.8 38.3 48.9
Bedfordshire 19.6 29.4 51
Nottinghamshire 19 28.6 52.4
Hertfordshire 32.1 10.7 57.2


DCLG statistics records 137 decisions made in 2015 by Essex’s local planning authorities regarding agricultural to residential planning applications under PDR. Thirty-three were granted, 61 were refused, and 43 were judged as not requiring Prior Approval. The three councils that refused the most applications were: Maldon District Council 18; Uttlesford District Council 15; and Epping Forest District Council 13.

For further information on this article please contact Martin Betts, CLA East Communications Manager: 01638 590429 / 07702 926696, or email

Gepp & Sons have possibly the most experienced and established Rural Services Legal Team in the region. If you have any legal questions relating to farming and businesses in the rural community please contact Edward Worthy on either 01245 493939 or

The above is not legal advice; the article was first published by the CLA and is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.