Barn conversion between Heathfield and Crowborough refused in light of landmark legal case

Huggetts Farm Barn
Huggetts Farm Barn

Proposals to convert a rural barn into a home near Five Ashes have been refused overturning a previous decision in light of a landmark legal case.

On Thursday (October 17), Wealden District Council’s planning committee considered proposals for the conversion of an agricultural barn at Huggetts Farm at Stonehurst Lane into a residential dwelling. 

An application to convert the barn had been approved in 2017 (with planning permission to follow the signing of a legal agreement), but the scheme was brought back to the committee in February due to changes in planning policy.

While also recommended for approval in February, the application was deferred to allow planning officers to consider the impact of a recent legal case related to barn conversions.

The case – known as Hibbitt vs SSCLG and Rushmore Building Control 2016 – revolved around what could be considered a conversion rather than a new build.

In a report to the committee, a council spokesman said: “The purpose of the deferral was to enable for the officer report to be updated to take account of the recent case law to confirm how the proposal sits in relation [to the] convertibility of the subject building.

“In essence it is considered that upon careful reflection; the extent of works required to this barn would be excessive and result in a new dwelling born more through new build works than a true conversion.

“Regrettably this must result in a recommendation of refusal.”

This view was not shared by Allen Rollings, a planning agent for the applicant, who argued the case did not apply to the application as it related to conversions under permitted development rights (known as Part Q applications) and not to full planning permission applications.

Mr Rollings said: “This application was approved two years ago and received a favourable report in February.

“It was only deferred to see if the Hibbitt case could apply to it. The Hibbitt case is used to prevent Part Q applications without going through the rigours of the planning approval process. 

“This plan is not the subject of a Part Q application and never could be [so] how could the Hibbitt case be used to refuse it.

“I respectfully ask that the majority of members here on this committee vote to overturn this recommendation and allow your planning approval of two years ago to stand, thus bringing an end to this injustice now.”

Ultimately, however, the committee opted to follow the recommendations of officers, largely because converting the barn would require such significant works that it would be essentially creating a new building.

Cllr Neil Waller (Con, Crowborough South West) said: “I want to focus on Hibbitt and I think the phrase was ‘significant and substantial structure.’

“We see many barns. Some barns are fully enclosed and this one clearly isn’t. I would call a fully enclosed barn a significant and substantial structure. I certainly wouldn’t call a barn where one side is fully open to the elements a substantial structure.

“It is obvious that a fully enclosed barn would take less conversion than this barn, in my opinion.

“As planning officers have said, there are material changes in the planning environment in which we must now make our decisions and that must weigh heavily on what we do. So I would like to propose refusal of this application in line with officers’ recommendation.”

For further details of the application see reference WD/2017/1171/F on the Wealden District Council website.

Huw Oxburgh , Local Democracy Reporting Service