Breathing fresh life into derelict buildings

Traditional farm buildings are an important part of the English landscape, but an increasing number lie abandoned and derelict because advances in agricultural practice have rendered them redundant.  To give these buildings a fresh lease of life, Historic England have issued new guidelines which it is hoped will result in more planning applications for conversion being approved, and, where conversion is not possible, will encourage building owners to implement a programme of repair and maintenance geared towards possible reuse.

The guidelines include a toolkit for assessing development potential and for creating development schemes that comply with the National Planning Policy Framework and local plan policies.  The emphasis is on the early evaluation of options and on identifying and resolving potential obstacles before a planning application is submitted or building works commence. 

The importance of obtaining early professional advice and support as part of the process is also highlighted, particularly for large-scale and complex projects.  It is not uncommon, with more isolated farm buildings for example, to encounter problems with access and the laying of services which may hinder redevelopment if not addressed at an early stage.  A proposed change of use may also hinge on getting a restriction on the use that can be made of a building lifted, or in managing an overage or clawback arrangement entitling a previous owner to share in any increase in value as a result of redevelopment taking place.  

The guidelines have been written for the benefit of everyone involved in the development and conservation of rural areas, including building owners, commercial developers, architects, planners and conservation offers. 

As Historic England act as the government’s expert advisor on England’s heritage, and are a statutory consultee in the planning process, the guidelines will now be a relevant consideration in a local authority’s decision-making process. 

Commenting on the guidelines, Hazel Anyon, agriculture expert at Pearsons & Ward Solicitors in Malton says:

‘Owners of traditional farm buildings keen to bring them back into use face many challenges, not least understanding the potential range of uses to which they may be put.  By providing a framework that encourages the consideration of all options, both for buildings which are obviously ripe for conversion and those with little obvious scope for adaption, the guidelines provide a useful roadmap for ensuring that as many traditional farm buildings as possible can be brought back into use and earn their keep.’

‘I am particularly pleased to see the role of professional advisors mentioned, as all too often schemes that could and should have been approved at the first time of asking are rejected because they have been poorly thought through, and it is only when advisors with relevant expertise get involved that the schemes finally get the go ahead.  Hopefully the guidelines will encourage more people to seek help earlier, thereby saving them time, money and effort in the long-run’.  

The guidelines can be found in the following publications on the Historic England website:

  • Historic England Advice Note 9: The Adaptive Reuse of Traditional Farm Buildings;
  • Adapting Traditional Farm Buildings: Best Practice Guidelines for Adaptive Reuse;
  • The Maintenance and Repair of Traditional Farm Buildings: A Guide to Good Practice.

For more information, and to discuss your own agricultural planning or development plans, please contact Hazel Anyon on 01653 692247 or email