Barn conversion proposals threaten National Parks

  • Contributor information: CNP

Campaign for National Parks and 13 other organisations have written to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, raising strong concerns over proposals to remove planning protections in Protected Landscapes.

The Government published recent plans that would allow barns and other rural buildings in National Parks to be converted into dwellings without the need for planning permission. We’re concerned that if these proposals go ahead, they will lead to the growth of isolated residential units in unsustainable locations and will undermine National Park Authority’s policies to ensure local people are given priority when new housing is built. A proliferation of new dwellings could also add significant pressures in terms of water pollution and traffic without any requirement to contribute to the supporting infrastructure needed to address such issues. 
We’ve written to the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, raising our strong opposition to the proposals and seeking assurance that the Government will retain the exemptions which currently apply in Protected Landscapes and which we campaigned hard for when the barn conversion proposals were first put forward a decade ago. We’ve also had a letter published in The Telegraph newspaper highlighting the issue and have submitted a full response to the consultation on Permitted Development Rights.

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Dear Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities,

We were deeply disappointed to learn of the Government’s plans to extend the permitted  development rights for converting agricultural and other rural buildings to residential use to  Protected Landscapes (National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs)). There is a long-established practice of not applying certain permitted development rights in these areas in line with national planning policy which emphasises the importance of protecting these areas from inappropriate development. 

We campaigned to secure the exemption for National Parks and AONBs and welcomed this exemption when the rights for barn conversions were first introduced in 2014. The case for not applying these and other rights in these areas is even stronger now than it was then. Indeed, the Glover Review of Designated Landscapes, which you commissioned when at Defra, called for a review of the current system of Permitted Development Rights with a view to potentially identifying further rights to be added to the exemptions list. What Government is proposing now is directly contrary to this and would have disastrous consequences across Protected Landscapes. 

National Parks and AONBs are living landscapes which must adapt over time. There is clear evidence that the planning policies which apply in these areas enable progress while ensuring additional protections apply and they do a difficult job well. Where there is a need for the appropriate change of use of existing buildings, for example where this can provide much needed affordable housing or ensure the future upkeep of traditional buildings, such changes must be carefully managed and monitored to ensure that they are not harming the unique character of an area. National Parks and AONBs are our finest landscapes with the highest level of protection and even small changes can have a disproportionate impact in these areas.

The need to limit the use of certain rights in Protected Landscapes to ensure that development is of an appropriate scale is acknowledged in the same consultation which proposes removing the exemptions for barn conversions. But yet the Government is proposing to apply new rights in Protected Landscapes which will make it easier to convert a wide range of rural buildings including those used for forestry and equestrian purposes as well as increasing the number of dwellings allowed per conversion. 

If these changes go ahead, they will lead to a free-for-all on the development of new, isolated residential units in unsustainable locations without the supporting infrastructure and could add significant pressures in terms of water pollution and traffic. Where once there was a field barn standing isolated in a hay meadow, there will be a pocket of suburbia, and this will be repeated throughout the landscape, creating sprawl and spoiling everyone’s enjoyment of nature, open space and tranquillity. 

Allowing this to go ahead will also completely undermine the Government’s aim that Protected Landscapes should play an important role in recovering nature and contributing towards meeting the international commitment to protect 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030 (the 30×30 target). We have been working hard to secure amendments to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill which would deliver key recommendations from the Glover Review aimed at maximising the potential for Protected Landscapes to contribute to nature recovery and the 30×30 target. Your government has already acknowledged the need for these crucial amendments in its response to the Glover Review but has, so far, failed to take advantage of the legislative opportunities available to secure the necessary changes. 

Now, not only is the government failing to deliver long-promised new protections for our most precious landscapes, but you are also proposing changes which will critically weaken the existing protections. 

Reducing the long-established planning protections that currently apply in Protected Landscapes will do nothing to drive economic growth. Last year, we were reassured that the government listened and responded to similar concerns about relaxing planning regulations in Protected Landscapes by not taking forward Investment Zones in these areas. Your predecessor, Rt Hon Simon Clarke MP, assured us that there would be no downgrading of the strong and long-established protections for National Parks and AONBs. 

We very much hope that you will also be able to provide us with an early assurance of your commitment to retaining the exemptions from permitted development rights for converting barns and other types of agricultural buildings which currently apply in Protected Landscapes. 

Yours sincerely, 

Dr Rose O’Neill, Chief Executive, Campaign for National Parks 
Les Sturch, Vice Chair, CPRE Peak District and South Yorkshire 
John Ward, Chairman, Friends of the New Forest 
Kate O’Sullivan, Chair, The Exmoor Society 
David Sawyer, Chair, Friends of the South Downs 
Bruce McLeod, Chair, Friends of the Dales 
Tom Usher, CEO, Dartmoor Preservation Association 
Michael Hill, CEO, Friends of the Lake District 
Adrian Leaman, Chair, North Yorkshire Moors Association 
Paul Rice, Chairman, The Broads Society 
Paul Davies, CEO, British Mountaineering Council 
Kate Ashbrook, General Secretary, The Open Spaces Society 
Roger Mortlock, CEO, CPRE, The Countryside Charity 
Ross Maloney, CEO, The Ramblers Association