Development Management SPD

Ended on the 5th February 2021
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9 Conversion of redundant and disused buildings

9.1 Local Plan Policy GD3 confirms that only development for the purposes of agriculture and similar rural based activity will be appropriate in the countryside. Local Plan policy GD8 includes criteria that development should be well planned to be, amongst other things, of a scale and design that would not damage the quality, character and amenity of an area.

9.2 Many of the buildings that contribute to the character of Harborough District, its towns, countryside, villages and conservation areas, were erected in previous times for economic and social conditions that no longer exist, or have changed. NPPF paragraph 79 similarly confirms isolated new homes in countryside should be avoided unless there are special circumstances such as re-use of redundant or disused buildings and lead to an enhancement to the immediate setting. (Fig. 9.1)

Fig. 9.1 Example of redundant buildings


9.3 Economic changes have rendered obsolete many buildings (both agricultural and non-agricultural) which now have potential for re-use. Many of these date from the 18th and 19th centuries or earlier and were built of traditional materials in the vernacular style; they contribute greatly to the character of the District, as do many buildings of the earlier 20th century. The retention of traditional buildings is important to the District as they impart a special character to their environment. New uses can allow the buildings to continue to impart distinctiveness to their village, countryside or town. New uses can also contribute to the economy of the rural area.

9.4 Buildings with large interior spaces, such as barns and chapels, could lend themselves to leisure or community use, or for restaurants, storage or light industry. The advantages of these uses are, generally, that they contribute to the rural economy, and that minimal alterations to the building are required thus retaining the building's spatial qualities, character and appearance. A conversion to residential use can, because of the demands of modern living accommodation, be more destructive of a building's character than those uses which require large internal spaces. Successful residential and business conversions can nevertheless, be achieved to provide these buildings with a sustainable future. Uses which provide employment and diversification of the rural economy will be encouraged, in preference to a residential conversion; the former usually involves fewer alterations to the building.


9.5 Buildings to be converted must be of permanent and substantial construction and capable of conversion without major or complete reconstruction. Buildings of good traditional quality which contribute, or would contribute when restored, to the character of their areas should be restored and their demolition resisted. The 'conversion' of a redundant building does not mean erecting a substantially new building on the footprint of the old, nor the alteration of the old building such that its original form is destroyed or rendered unrecognisable. 'Conversion' means the adaptation of an existing building to a new use involving minimal alterations which retain the visual character, form, structure, materials, and massing of the original.

9.6 Criteria for conversion involve both planning and architectural design considerations. For this reason, as much information as is available about the history of the building and the survival of original features should be submitted by the applicant with their application.

9.7 A Buildings Assessment may be requested to be submitted with any Planning Application, to assess the impact of the development upon the building.

9.8 Planning criteria are detailed below:

Internal Spaces

9.9 The internal spaces of large buildings (such as barns and chapels) should be respected in order to retain the character of the traditional buildings, and part, at least, should remain open from floor to roof in order to achieve this. Inappropriate planning of the internal space can have a knock on effect on the exterior, including for example the need for new windows.

9.10 Internally, the large spaces and the roof timbers of a structure impart the greatest character to an agricultural building. The sense of height and space should be retained. Roof timbers and trusses should be left exposed. The use of galleries can be a way to indicate and retain the original spatial quality of the building. Internal subdivisions should be minimal and should reflect the form of the building. Living spaces can be open to the roof, rather than having ceilings inserted.

Barn Doors

9.11 The large door was a feature of the barn. Its height was sufficient to allow a laden corn wain to enter. The doors opposite were often lower, sufficient for an un-laden wain to pass; the floor between was used for threshing. Large barn doors are therefore the most characteristic feature of the outside of the barn.

9.12 Traditional barn door openings should be retained. The openings should be treated to emphasise their original size and form, by totally glazing the whole opening. They should not be partially or completely blocked or infilled. Glazing to large areas should be set back in a reveal to retain the character of the opening. By filling the opening with glass much light can enter an otherwise dark building. Such glass should not be "multi-paned", but rather be of large panes separated by bold protruding mullions and transoms. Doors can be incorporated within this glass wall.

Window and door openings

9.13 Existing openings should be respected and retained. Openings are important to the character of farm buildings. Their size and position differ according to the use of the building. Most agricultural buildings were designed without windows. The emphasis was on facilitating access and ventilation. All existing (original) openings should be retained to keep the rhythm of the original, which is often in a random pattern. It may also in some instances be appropriate to re-open infilled or blocked up openings.

9.14 In a barn the openings are generally in the form of ventilation slits, or of honeycombed brick work. Fixed glazing can be put in the slits and behind the honeycombs which would allow light to filter to the inside and would retain the characteristic pattern of the exterior. Honey combing must be retained externally.

9.15 Cowsheds and stables had wide doorways, with arched architraves and wide door jambs. The width is important. Wide doorways can have half doors, retaining the existing hinges. Door and shutters can often be tied back as a wall feature or retained in working order to provide privacy. If light is required inside, then the top half can be glazed; the top door could still be retained as an external shutter. Doorways often had narrow horizontal overlights. These should be retained as they let more light inside.

9.16 New fenestration should generally be avoided and be kept to an absolute minimum when required. Bathrooms and WCs can be mechanically vented internally rather than have new window openings inserted.

9.17 New window openings disrupt the original rhythm, or can be intrusive in what were intended to be plain walls. Too many windows destroy the form of the original building. New openings should never be planned in a regular or symmetrical pattern, as this is overly domestic.

9.18 Where windows must be inserted they should replicate existing proportions, construction, cill and lintel treatment and placed into an appropriate reveal.

9.19 All doors and windows should be of painted wood and of a design appropriate to the building.

9.20 On traditional buildings UPVC and similar synthetic materials should not be used. Joinery was traditionally painted green or brown, and such traditional colour schemes and treatment should be respected. Simple boarded doors should be used. Panelled doors with glass panes, doors with dropped fanlights, and stained wood are alien and discordant to old buildings.

Rooflights and dormer windows

9.21 The roof of an old building can often be the most visually prominent parts of the building. A key characteristic feature is a long, unbroken roof profile.

9.22 Dormer windows should be avoided as they are domestic in appearance and can significantly alter the shape and profile of the roofline.

9.23 Rooflights, whilst less intrusive, can still visually undermine unbroken roof slopes. Rooflights should be used sparingly, and discretely located, so they are not a feature in the landscape. They should be conservation type, and fitted flush with the roof plane.

9.24 Roofing materials vary by place but common local examples include thatch, clay tiles and slate. These should be retained and re-used wherever possible and/or replaced on a like for like basis.


9.25 Chimneys should be avoided in most traditional buildings as they are largely domestic and alien features. Possible exceptions are smaller servicing buildings attached to a main barn which have included, in some circumstances, tall chimneys. Metal flues with a matte finish may be appropriate additions. However they should be discrete in size and siting. They should generally be sited away from the principal elevations and low on the eaves.

Features of Interest

9.26 Internal and external features of interest should be retained and exposed. Such as mounting blocks, threshing floors in barns, ventilation slits, tethering rings, loft door ways, slaughter house wheels, outside stair cases or dog kennels. The retention of the threshing floor, if it survives, or the use of a different flooring material in its location (between the large doors of a barn) is appropriate. Dog kennels were often incorporated into mounting blocks or outside staircases.

Rainwater Goods and Plumbing

9.27 Implementation of these features should be minimal and discrete. They should be simple in design and located away from the principal elevation if possible. Gutters and downpipes should wherever possible be of cast metal, not UPVC. UPVC is a modern synthetic substance out of keeping with traditional buildings and their materials.

9.28 Soil pipes from bathrooms and WCs should be internal. External soil pipes and soil vent pipes look incongruous on old buildings. Because they are only functional objects their impact should be minimal.


9.29 Substantial additions to existing buildings should be avoided.

9.30 In general, all the accommodation requirements for conversion should be found inside existing buildings. If any extensions are necessary they should be small, subservient to the original, and simple. They should follow the traditional form such as a lean-to outshut and should not depart from the linear form (for example at right angles to a particular wall) of the buildings. Extras such as aerials, satellite dishes, garden sheds, gas cylinders etc. can look cluttered and unsightly. If they are required, provision should be made which is not visually detrimental. With permitted development rights removed many of these will require planning permission.

9.31 Porches should be avoided. Porches are alien features to agricultural buildings. Their use would create external additions which would conflict with the simplicity and design of the original agricultural building. Any protection required should be made internal.

Car Parking and garages

9.32 Provision of parking and garaging must harmonise with the site. Adequate car parking provision is required for all development in the district. This can be provided by setting aside land for parking or by providing garages. Garaging must harmonise with the existing buildings in style and material. A garage range can be constructed in the form of a range of open fronted cattle shelters or cart sheds with wooden or brick piers, and a slate or clay tile roof. Doors may be fitted to some of the open front sections.

The Setting

9.33 Attention should be paid to both the grouping of existing buildings and of any proposed additions. This is to ensure that the original form and massing of the buildings is retained. Integral parts of the original grouping should not be removed.

Curtilage Features

9.34 External features such as yard surfacing and boundary walls should be respected.

9.35 The original paving of agricultural yards is often a feature and worthy of retention. Yards in Harborough District often had river cobbles for a hard surface. Some have been covered in the past with concrete, but these can be reinstated.

9.36 The boundary walls of agricultural yards are frequently of significance. Where these walls are of physical or visual interest they should be retained. New walls should reflect their character in size, design and materials. The coping of walls is a significant feature. The retention of original copings and use of traditional coping forms on new walls is to be encouraged. In general close boarded fencing is considered inappropriate, although a post and rail fence (which may be under-planted with a native hedge mix) can give a softer boundary treatment, which is desirable in some instances.

9.37 The new use should not require the construction of additional structures, including extensions, walls, fences, garages and storage areas, which could adversely affect the character and setting of the existing building, or the massing of its group.


9.38 Security and other lighting should not be excessive and must be sympathetic to the location, particularly in rural areas and in the open countryside; any installations should be designed to minimise light pollution. Lighting should provide an adequate level of illumination to reduce the fear and incidence of crime and allow for the safe passage of pedestrians and motor vehicles. Requirements for any external lights and for ancillary structures need to be taken into account at the same time as conversion proposals are considered.

Permitted Development Rights

9.39 These will be withdrawn from residential conversions to allow the Authority to retain control over further extensions and alterations to the converted building. Subsequent applications for alterations to converted buildings, e.g. barns converted to residential use, will be treated in the same way as proposals to erect extensions to that building prior to its conversion. Alterations or extensions should therefore follow the traditional form, be small scale, subservient to the original building and simple.


Would you like to make any comments in relation to Section 9? Please quote relevant paragraph numbers in your response.

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