'Lessons learned' on traditional barn conversions in Yorkshire Dales as only 28% are for local occupancy and most were unaffordable

A lessons learned review of a controversial policy to allow some traditional barns in the Yorkshire Dales to be converted into housing has found “a general lack of consensus” persists over how, where and why it should be implemented.

A Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority meeting next Tuesday will hear since the introduction of a more flexible barn conversion policy in 2015, consent has been granted to transform some 198 of the traditional barns.

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An officers’ report to the meeting states securing the restoration of traditional farm buildings remained critical to retaining one of the national park’s special qualities.

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A traditional Dales barn in AskriggA traditional Dales barn in Askrigg
A traditional Dales barn in Askrigg

It highlights how the policy aimed to encourage adaptation and re-use of the more accessible traditional farm buildings, but only where the buildings and their locations have capacity to absorb them.

The policy has long been heralded by some community leaders as an affordable solution to enabling more young people to live in the Dales, as there are a large number of unused barns which do not come with the same amount of hurdles as building new homes in the park.

Nevertheless, the report has revealed of the 198 planning consents granted, only 28 per cent have had local occupancy or rural worker restrictions placed on them.

Some 56 per cent of the barn conversions, most of which have been concentrated in the Craven district area of the national park, and in particular in Wharfedale, have given the owners choice over whether they become a home for locals or a holiday let.

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Chair of Hawes and High Abbotside Parish Council Coun Jill McMullon said owners that claimed to be uncertain over the use of the barns were behind “a complete ruse to get planning permission”.

She said the policy needed to be revised as the barns were a good solution to help local people to remain in the highly protected area, but the barns with consent for holiday lets had gone on the market for £300,000, which was far more than many local residents could afford.

Coun McMullon said: “The only way to keep the Dales alive in the future is to enable young people to afford to live here. They are being driven away constantly and it has to change.”

The report states indications from a consultation in September were that “there remains a general lack of consensus on the main issues surrounding locations, occupancy and design approach to conversions”.

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It adds reconciling the conflict between housing needs, supporting tourism and conserving the environment in the national park’s forthcoming Local Plan would “undoubtedly be challenging”.

The report states: “At the heart of these tensions is, perhaps, a lack of agreement about what the primary objective of the policy should be.

“Whilst there were some initial high profile disagreements about its implementation, the introduction of a new, more flexible policy in 2015 has undoubtedly led to more barns being brought back into use, and has generated investment that we know leads directly to local employment and economic benefits.”