Councillors urge caution as rural planning rules change

THE Government has been warned that plans to allow redundant farm buildings to be converted into new homes could compound an affordable housing crisis in rural communities unless proper planning controls are put in place.

Members of Richmondshire District Council have welcomed plans drawn up by Ministers to allow conversions of empty farm buildings into homes without the need for planning permission, although they stressed there needs to be adequate constraints to ensure there is not a “free-for-all approach” to development.

Councillors have called for regulations to exclude buildings from development which are in prominent fell-side positions which enhance the landscapes. They have maintained locally enforced planning controls should be put in place, which give residents a voice over what should be developed – while also encouraging appropriate barn conversions.

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Council leader John Blackie said: “There are plenty of barns in or near roadside positions, or on farmsteads, which could easily be converted into houses – and with many of them in the ownership of local families, their conversion will provide affordable opportunities for local people to stay in the Dales. But allowing any redundant barn or farm building to be redeveloped into housing could lead to sporadic development across the Dales and beyond in Richmondshire – forcing up house prices and seeing yet more buildings converted into holiday or second homes.”

A stark warning was issued last year that a drive to build scores of new homes in the Yorkshire Dales will not address an affordable housing crisis. The first strategy of its kind came into force in June 2012 in the Yorkshire Dales National Park in the hope more than 200 properties will be built before 2025.

But managers at the park authority admitted the vast majority of residents will see no actual benefit from the housing blueprint as they battle to afford to live in one of the region’s property hotspots.

Coun Blackie said yesterday that while no-one wanted a “free for all”, proper controls would ensure conversions could help keep young people and families in rural communities.

The Government is expected to announce the results of a consultation early next year.