That is according to the Darlington office of property and surveying firm Smiths Gore which believes the ‘Greater flexibilities for change of use’ proposals would enable the region to tackle its housing shortage and breathe new life into vacant rural properties.
Under the proposals – which are currently going through a consultation process – redundant agricultural buildings could be converted into homes, schools or nurseries without planning permission.
While planning applications would still be subject to a prior approval mechanism, the simplified development consent process would speed up the redevelopment of currently unused rural buildings across the region.
Jennifer Hadland, planning consultant, said the proposals could have a hugely positive impact on the North East property sector and wider economy.
She said: “If these proposals do come into force, they should help to create more development opportunities for landowners where conversion has previously been resisted by local planning authorities.
“Much of the North East is very rural in nature, particularly around the coal towns of County Durham. The new proposals will allow landowners in the region the opportunity to utilise buildings which have, in the past, had to remain vacant and thereby become a liability. Change of use to residential will also provide a greater housing choice in the area, helping address the current housing shortfall, especially in the rural districts.
“There are tens of thousands of disused agricultural buildings across the region and allowing them to be used for housing will help restore vitality to rural areas. It will also assist farmers by enabling them to utilise their building assets providing an additional investment to their farming enterprise.”
The new proposals create a permitted development right to allow a building used for agricultural purposes of up to 500m2 to be used as a new state funded school or nursery providing childcare.
It is thought that this will help address the shortfall of school places which have come about following the cuts to funding to build new schools, particularly in the rural areas.
The proposals could also help address concerns set out by the National Planning & Policy Framework about the urgent need to significantly boost housing supply amid a UK-wide shortage.
According to Smiths Gore, the current planning consent process to convert an agricultural building to a dwelling can be a long and expensive task.
Hadland said: “Some councils even profess that, in accordance with current local planning policy, they would rather see traditional agricultural buildings fall into a state of disrepair before allowing consent for conversion to an alternative use, particularly residential.
“It can be very frustrating for our clients. Many have buildings which are obviously no longer suitable for modern day agricultural use, however, they are unable to do anything viable with them due to current policy and guidance.
“This new permitted development right will help remove this hurdle, providing landowners with a greater opportunity to utilise their assets in a modern suitable manner.
“This has to be viewed as a more sustainable option than to watch these buildings fall into a state of disrepair and eventually being lost forever.”
The consultation period for the new measures closes on October 15th and the proposals cover five areas of permitted development rights to allow:
All proposals also include permission to carry out building work connected with the change of use.
Smiths Gore is a rural property consultancy of chartered surveyors which employs 25 people in Darlington and turns over £1.4m from its office in the town.
The firm, which this year celebrated the 150th anniversary of its Darlington office, acts for clients with total landholdings in excess of 134,000 acres. For more information visit: www.smithsgore.co.uk