Craven planners were recently faced with plans to rebuild and convert into homes two former farm buildings. One was allowed, the other was refused. Lesley Tate looks at the tricky issue of planning.

WHEN is it acceptable for a tumbledown cattle shed or barn to be rebuilt and converted to a home? And just how much rebuilding can be allowed before it becomes an entirely new development in the open countryside?

Should the personal circumstances of those trying to rebuild such old farm buildings be taken into account? And just who decides what makes such circumstances exceptional enough to put aside a local planning authority's policies?

And, why should the rebuilding of a building that was once in use be wrong, when the building of new homes on a green field site can be right?

At a recent planning committee meeting of Craven District Council, the owners of two farm buildings in two separate villages had applied for permission to convert them to residential use, but only one was allowed.

The council is also due to fight in June a planning appeal made by a farmer who appealed against its decision to allow the rebuilding for agricultural use of New Laithe Barn at Bank Newton, near Gargrave.

One of the recently discussed buildings - Bence Barn, Keasden Road, Clapham, had no roof, and just part of an interior wall worthy of keeping after the vast majority had either fallen down or fallen victim to a bad storm.

The other, a 'shippon' building at Willow Tree, Austwick, had been substantially rebuilt by the owner before a planning application had been even submitted. Council officers claimed some 70 per cent of the building had been rebuilt, whereas the applicant said it was more like 50 per cent. It formed part of a group of former farm buildings which had been in residential use for 35 years.

In the Clapham case, the rebuilding and subsequent conversion to a 'live-work' unit was allowed, but in the second, it was not, although it was a close run thing. The main difference being the Clapham barn had previously been given planning permission, even though it had subsequently fallen down - or been blown down in a particularly ferocious storm. The farmer owner also made an emotional plea to councillors, explaining how the farm had been in the family for generations, and that extra living space was needed to allow their autistic daughter to remain close to her family.

In the Austwick case, rebuilding had started before permission had been given, which even to those councillors who supported the scheme, was not to be condoned. In addition, it had never been given planning permission for its conversion.

Planning manager, Neville Watson, was quite clear in his expert advice to councillors. In both cases, the application should be refused.

Even Bence Barn's previous planning consent did not count - that had 'crumbled' like the building it was tied to and no longer existed.

"The important thing to remember is that planning permission is no longer valid," said Mr Watson. "That planning permission effectively crumbled and crashed with the building."

Mr Watson said there were occasions when the exceptional circumstances of an applicant could be taken into account, such as the addition of a ground floor extension for someone with mobility issues, but in the case of Bence Barn, he saw no exceptional circumstances and his advice remained the same - to refuse permission.

His advice was to refuse permission on the grounds that a structural engineer had concluded that the barn was incapable of being converted to a live-work unit, as the family had wanted, and as such, the proposed development would be classed a new dwelling in the open countryside.

For councillors to allow the development would go against council policy of sustainable development and would be unacceptable in principle in that it would mean sporadic, unjustified development.

A clearly emotional Karen Wallbank, speaking on behalf of the family, said husband, George, had followed his ancestors onto the farm and that their son, Jack wanted to move into the farmhouse to continue the tradition with his family. They also had a grown up daughter who was autistic and needed constant care. It was the family's hope that the additional accommodation would allow that to happen.

Ward councillor, David Ireton, urged the committee to support the family and said it clearly differed from the Austwick shippon application. He had been aware of the particularly vicious storm that had done for the barn and disputed it was a new build in the open countryside. "This is not something that is new, this is a reconstruction of a barn for which there was planning permission," he said.

Cllr Ireton said the desire of the family to keep their daughter close to them would also carry weight, if he was on the planning committee.

"I know exceptional reasons are not a reason in itself, but I hope you can be compassionate, " he said.

His sentiments were shared by committee member, Cllr Carl Lis who said it was his understanding that the building had come down during extreme weather conditions.

The family wanted a live-work unit within the farm to allow them all to stay together and continue farming, he said.

And although the building was no longer standing, all the materials needed, including the roof slates were still there - just scattered about on the ground.

"We would be creating a live-work unit that we need and which would help the family in the future, " he said.

Cllr John Dawson said Bence Barn was one of the most difficult decisions he had had to make in his relatively short time on the planning committee. He sympathised with the family, but believed the committee needed to be consistent, and refuse it, as it had the shippon at Austwick.

Cllr Ian Thompson said councillors were told to look at the merits of each application and to his mind, they should approve it, and get it back into use.

Cllr Robert Heseltine was also of the opinion that the family's circumstances carried weight.

"In policy terms, we would be expected to refuse this, but this is a proper use and in my opinion as a layman, there is substantial mitigation in terms of the applicant, it is absolutely an exceptional case," he said.