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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Shields

Barn Conversions in Leicestershire and the East Midlands:

Planning & Class Q permitted development rights 2023

Unlocking the Potential of Barn Conversions with a RIBA Chartered Architect in Leicestershire

Are you considering the transformation of a barn into a stunning home, a creative studio, a cosy holiday let, or perhaps a modern office space? This could be less of a daunting process that you may think.

In this article, we will explain the basic principles of Class Q permitted development rights and take you step-by-step through the extensive criteria that your barn will have to meet to qualify for conversion under these rights.

We will show you how to take full advantage of all of the options available to you to convert your agricultural building into an extraordinary and architecturally outstanding space.

Why Choose a Barn Conversion?

Barn Conversions in Leicestershire and the East Midlands have become increasingly popular for a variety of reasons. The chance to breathe new life into a disused or unloved barn or agricultural building has a unique appeal. Unlike new build projects, where you often start from scratch, a barn conversion offers the advantage of having an existing structure. The outer walls and roof are already in place, providing a foundation to create a space filled with natural light, spaciousness, and a cozy atmosphere.

Besides these practical advantages, barn conversions are a great investment opportunity. Prices for converted barns have been on the rise, making them an attractive choice for those looking to create flexible living spaces adaptable to modern family life.

Barn conversions are not just about functionality; they offer unique architectural opportunities. Whether you're working with stone barns, wooden barns, rustic or traditional barns, or even modern agricultural buildings, you can honor the original materials and design elements while creating a contemporary, modern dwelling tailored to your needs and preferences.

Drone Photography by arch/FORM - Barn Conversion - Black Timber Cladding and Standing Seam Roof - Brixworth, Northampton, Northamptonshire
Drone Photography by arch/FORM

Recent changes in legislation have streamlined the barn conversion process, making it more accessible and less bureaucratic. It's a golden opportunity to bring your vision to life.

How to make a prior approval application for Class Q

If you're looking to convert a barn into a house, the good news is that most barn conversions fall under permitted development rights, specifically Class Q. This means you won't need to go through the traditional, time-consuming planning application process. Class Q permitted development rights aim to expedite the planning process, allowing new homes to enter the system more rapidly.

However, it's essential to follow the regulations diligently. To start, you must submit a prior approval application to ensure the legality and acceptance of your barn conversion by the local planning authority. This process covers various aspects, including transport, noise, flood risk, and material details. Class Q may be a subset of permitted development rules, but the prior approval part is non-negotiable.

The 5 Requirements of a Class Q Barn Conversion

1. Agricultural Use Requirement

To qualify for conversion under permitted development rights, the barn must have been used for agriculture on March 20, 2013, or within 10 years of your conversion application. New barns must serve solely for agricultural purposes for at least a decade before becoming eligible. While agricultural use may have ceased before March 2013, there should not have been any other significant change of use since that time.

2. Listing Limitation

3. Structural Integrity

4. Preservation of Original Character

5. Location Consideration

The Role of an Architect in Barn Conversions

While Class Q permitted development rights simplify the process, it's essential to recognise the complexity of barn conversions. It's here that your architect's expertise becomes invaluable. Architects play a pivotal role in ensuring the success of your project. Recent changes made to Class Q permitted development rights also now require applicants to provide drawings with a greater level of detail. This includes:

Icons of Architectural information required under a Class Q Barn Conversion
Architectural information required under a Class Q Barn Conversion

Our Experience and Expertise

At arch/FORM, we have an extensive understanding of barn conversions in Leicestershire. While our practice is small, the advantage is that you'll work directly with an RIBA Chartered Architect, ensuring personalised service, and a commitment to excellence. William's experience in barn conversions spans various types, including stone, portal frame , and timber-framed barns. We tailor our approach to your unique needs, whether it's a family home, a creative studio, a holiday let, or an office space. Our commitment to energy efficiency underpins our designs. While the Building Regulations set minimum standards, we advocate for the most carbon-efficient options, aligning with the evolving focus on sustainable living and environmental responsibility.

When is Planning Permission Required for Barn Conversions?

In some cases, barn conversions may not meet the criteria for Class Q permitted development rights. If your barn is situated within an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), a conservation area, a national park, a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), or a World Heritage Site, you'll need full planning permission. These land designations aim to protect the natural and cultural heritage, making any proposed development within these areas subject to rigorous scrutiny by the local planning authority.

To secure planning permission for your barn conversion in these protected areas, you must make a compelling case. Your design should align with the surroundings, maintaining the character of the original building while respecting the habitat of protected wildlife species. It's worth noting that the decision on planning permission can be highly subjective, influenced by the preferences of the local planning officers or the planning committee. In contrast, permitted development rules offer a more straightforward, rule-based approach. Applying for planning permission necessitates building a strong case to convince the council to grant consent for your project.

Do I need building regulations approval to convert a barn?

Building regulations approval is essential for all barn conversions, regardless of their size or intended use. This aspect of the conversion process is where a qualified architect and structural engineer come into play. They will assist in preparing building regulations drawings for building control approval, ensuring your project complies with all the necessary standards and safety requirements.

There are two main routes for making a building regulations application: a full plans building control application or a building notice. While both are options, we highly recommend the full plans route for the protection and assurance it provides. Under this route, your architect will submit comprehensive technical drawings, including site location plans, floor plans, elevations, and sections through the barn. These plans should be accompanied by structural calculations, specifications, and construction notes. These are then reviewed and approved for compliance, making the engagement of a contractor more simple and simplifying construction on site.

Designing Your Unique Barn Conversion in Leicestershire

Now, let's delve into the exciting phase of designing your barn conversion! To begin, take a stroll around your barn and consider what you'd like to include, preserve, and avoid. Clear communication with your architect is key to achieving a barn conversion that matches your vision and requirements.

One of the fascinating aspects of barn conversions is the fusion of old and new. You can retain the original elements of the barn, such as exposed timber beams, columns or other structural elements. You may also wish to retain large door openings such as Dutch Doors (or two-part doors). These elements not only add character but also maintain the building's history.

Open-plan layouts have traditionally been a hallmark of barn conversions. However, changes in regulations now permit the division of space into rooms if desired or even introduce mezzanine floors. This flexibility enables you to craft a living or working space that seamlessly blends rustic charm and historical features with modern amenities.

Barn Conversion, mezzanine floor, Oundle
A barn conversion we were instructed on near Oundle during construction with its new curved mezzanine floor.

Energy efficiency should be a priority. While building regulations set minimum standards, it's prudent to aim for the most carbon-efficient options, contributing to a greener, more sustainable future.

Contemporary vs. Traditional Barn Conversions

Barn conversions offer a wide array of possibilities, influenced by factors like the type of barn, whether it's steel-framed, agricultural, modern, or traditional stone. Moreover, you'll need to decide between a contemporary or traditional approach, considering older materials and methods for an authentic look or embracing a more modern design.

For example, you can utilise gorgeous wood panelling and have high ceilings that allow for a lot of natural light and make the place very airy. This also makes the space feel light and refreshing and combines rustic senses and historical features with modern amenities, such as underfloor heating or new architectural elements such as decorative curved stair cases. There are also practical things, like making sure that the barn conversion is properly insulated, the roof is functional and weatherproof – the odd leak might be alright for a barn full of cows, but you don’t want that in your new home! Ultimately, your architect will come up with a design that shows off your barn’s original features and keeps it nice and suitable for people to be in.

Barn Conversion, Oundle, Cambridgeshire with Underfloor Heating being installed.
The Oundle Barn Conversion with underfloor heating being installed.

Your architect will play a pivotal role in helping you navigate these choices, offering insights to make your barn beautiful and functional.

Choosing the Right Professionals for Your Barn Conversion

Selecting the right team of professionals is a critical step in the barn conversion process. This decision will set the tone for your project's success, and it's crucial to find individuals or firms who are reliable, trustworthy, and skilled in their respective fields.

The first and foremost professional to consider is an architect. Working directly with an RIBA Chartered Architect such as arch/FORM provides a unique advantage. You will benefit from the expertise of an accredited, regulated and insured practice with years of design experience and training, ensuring that the project aligns with their vision and meets all necessary regulations. Finding the right architect can be challenging, but it's a pivotal step that shouldn't be rushed. Look for reputable architecture firms with positive reviews and relevant experience.

Photo of an Existing Barn, prior to conversion. Barn Conversion, Northamptonshire.
A barn in Northamptonshire that we have recently received instruction on to convert to an Airbnb Holiday Let.

Selecting a Reliable Builder for Your Barn Conversion

Just as choosing the right architect is critical, finding a reliable builder is equally essential for the success of your barn conversion project. Trustworthiness and dependability are key traits to seek in a builder, as they will be responsible for turning the design into a physical reality. Your architect can often recommend a reputable builder based on their past collaborations. Alternatively, you can explore local construction firms and contractors, checking for online reviews and requesting to see their previous work. Before committing to a builder, conduct thorough research, ensuring that they have a history of delivering high-quality work. Additionally, ask to see their previous projects, which can provide insights into their craftsmanship and style.

Calculating the Cost of Your Barn Conversion

Understanding the cost of your barn conversion project is vital for effective planning. While the average cost of converting a barn in the UK is estimated to be around £2,000 - £3,500 per square meter, it's important to note that costs can vary based on factors such as the type of barn being converted and your location. For example, Barn Conversions in Leicestershire and Derbyshire will often be lower than those around London and the South. For instance, stone barn conversions tend to be more expensive, while brick barn conversions are typically more budget-friendly. Wood barn conversions fall somewhere in between, with costs influenced by the specific barn's condition and requirements. If you're a private individual (not a business), you may have the option to reclaim VAT paid on labour and materials used in your barn conversion. Using a VAT-registered builder can further reduce your costs, as they will invoice you at a reduced VAT rate of 5% rather than the standard 20%. To take advantage of this offer, ensure you keep receipts for materials and submit them for a VAT refund within three months of completing the barn conversion.

The Timeline for Your Barn Conversion

A common question asked by those embarking on barn conversion projects is, "How long will it take?" The timeline for a barn conversion can vary widely, depending on several factors. We recommend discussing the timeline with your architects and builders to get a more accurate estimate based on the specific characteristics of your barn and your desired scope of work. Consider variables such as design complexity, the extent of structural modifications, the need for a new foundation, and the level of fixtures, fittings, and material finishes.

Barn Conversion, Oundle, Cambridgeshire with Helical Spiral Stair being installed.
A new helical stair that we designed being installed at the Oundle Barn Conversion.

Can a Barn Conversion be Extended?

The answer to this is …sometimes. Barns are inherently spacious structures, certain situations might warrant additional space. However, it's important to be aware of the restrictions associated with barn extensions. The primary limitation is that you cannot extend beyond the original barn's footprint. Major extensions are unlikely to receive approval from the local planning authority. Modest extensions may be considered, especially if they connect the barn to other outbuildings in a well-designed manner. If you're considering an extension, be prepared to submit a full planning application, as permitted development rights restrict you to converting your barn within its original square footage. It's often easier to gain approval for an extension after the initial conversion has taken place.

How arch/FORM Can Support You and Your Barn Conversion

Completing a successful barn conversion, particularly under Class Q permitted development rights, can be a complex endeavor. Rates of refusal for barn conversions can be high, making it crucial to have the right professional guidance and a knowledgeable planning team on your side.

arch/FORM can assist you in designing a barn conversion in Leicestershire or Derbyshire that is not only unique but also architecturally outstanding. With our expertise and experience in countryside projects, we can help transform your barn into a property you will be proud of!

If you're looking to navigate the complexities of barn conversion and create a remarkable transformation, don't hesitate to reach out to us. We're here to provide the guidance and support needed to make your barn conversion project a success.



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