Derelict Buildings to Residential
Converting barns and old buildings, not currently being used for their original purpose, is not a job for the faint-hearted. It will often require imaginative plans and large budgets. The rewards can however be immense; many of the most beautiful homes in the country are residential conversions of buildings from something completely different to the reason they were originally built.
1 The Planning Department of your Local Authority will be your most important first step on the road to converting a barn or farm building for residential use. It may seem like the rural dream, and indeed the government are keen that new uses are found for old buildings, but if the structure is too remote for services, local schools and towns, it may not be considered sustainable. The Local Authority may prefer that a rural building is re-used for an alternative commercial activity.
2 You will need to engage the services of architects and surveyors who will be experienced in the change of use of barns and rural buildings. They will be your best hope of getting through planning relatively unscathed. Outline Planning Permission is unlikely to be acceptable to a Planning Department so you will want to get it right first time with detailed plans. Your application is also likely to require the inclusion of independent advice. This in turn will mean you will be aware of the sorts of costs involved from the outset.
3 You will also need to learn whether the building is listed. Up to 20% of barns have listed status and while that may not be an obstacle to conversion it could throw up a whole set of new issues to deal with. Many older buildings and churches have a higher percentage that fall under Listed Buildings consent.
4 There are also a number of areas for consideration that may not ordinarily spring to mind: i) Conservation Areas – This includes protection rights of property, party walls etc., ii) Rights of Way – Existing rights of way will be assessed and protected prior to the allocation of further rights of way, iii) Tree Preservation Orders – Planning Departments will have access to a Tree Preservation Officer, iv) Protection of Wildlife – Birds nesting seasons, bats in the roof... There are many areas for consideration and a Conservation Officer’s advice will need to be sought.
5 When converting a barn, church or Listed Building, it is worth remembering that what you see on the outside is not too dissimilar to the building you will be left with. With barns in particular, you will invariably be limited to using the apertures that are already in place for glazing – which is why you often see massive cart doors replaced by equally massive glazed areas. The roof line is unlikely to be altered and any works that are carried out often require specialist trades which can be very expensive. Extensions will be allowed in some cases, but usually for small additions like a utility room, and rarely for large areas like a garage.
6 There are many disused churches available, and although often difficult to plan with windows traversing two floors and with their distinctive looks, which are not to everyone’s taste, they can make stunning and appealing homes. www.churchcommissioners.org is a good starting place for redundant churches.
7 Conversion costs are far more difficult to assess when working with these types of conversions, which is why due diligence is so important. A rule of thumb to begin with would be £1,000 per square metre. A quick comparison between cost and end value based with that figure would provide a [very rough] guide.
8 A developer can claim back a proportion of VAT charged on the conversion of some buildings. If the owner retains the property for private residential use they can make a claim for the VAT under the DIY Builders Refund Scheme available from Customs and Excise. Check www.hmrc.gov.uk for the rules.