Block on re-use of iconic barns for commerce

Barns near Keld, Swaledale.
Barns near Keld, Swaledale.
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Farmers will not be allowed to bypass planning permission to convert the Dales’ iconic barns for commercial use after national park chiefs agreed to block the concession within its boundaries.

Members of the Dales National Park Authority voted 11:5 in favour of passing a Direction which means permitted development rights will be revoked in January.

Authority chief executive David Butterworth insists it is a victory for the preservation of internationally acclaimed landscapes worth millions to the economy and for the democratic planning process, but not everyone agrees.

A Direction under Article 4 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 has been passed to revoke the changes following a public consultation. Five parish councils had objected, as well as Richmondshire District Council, North Yorkshire County Council, the National Farmers’ Union and the Country Land and Business Association.

The leader of Richmondshire Council, Independent councillor John Blackie, says he is writing to Defra to urge the Secretary of State to call in the decision, describing it as “anti-farming, anti-business and anti the very best interests of local communities in the Dales”.

Permitted development rights were introduced by the Government in May last year, but the majority of Authority members are concerned they could lead to uncontrolled and inappropriate development which would have unique implications for the Dales as it is home to an estimated 6,000 barns, many in open countryside.

Shops, banks, restaurants, offices, warehouses, hotels and sports halls could all open in converted agricultural buildings without the need for planning permission.

Dales chief David Butterworth said: “The barns are an intrinsic and valuable part of the landscape on which a multi-million pound tourism industry depends. That economic value needs protecting alongside encouraging new economic development.”

Some members are perturbed that the rights of local communities to have a say on what should happen in their area through the planning process are lost under permitted development rights and Mr Butterworth said the Direction would “effectively retain local control of the planning process”. It does not mean a bar on commercial development, he said. The Authority’s new Local Plan for 2016 onwards is set to contain new policies to encourage more flexibility in re-using barns. and since 2006, 88 per cent of all such planning applications have been approved.

Nonetheless, Coun Blackie, who objected to the decision as a member of the Authority, is critical of the stance.

“The idea that entrepreneurs are going to start converting barns in iconic positions on the fellside into commercial enterprises when quite clearly what they need is underground supplies of electricity and water, access and parking, is simply barking.

“The fact is that entrepreneurs will look for roadside barns that are desperate to have a re-use, providing employment and local prosperity so people can not only afford to work locally but live locally as well. The message being broadcast throughout local communities is that the National Park doesn’t trust us and that I’m afraid is a very negative message.”