Land appraisal: A farmhouse ripe for renovation

Could this old farmhouse provide Kath and Angie Scholes with the chance to create their perfect family home? Mike Dade takes a closer look
by Mike Dade
10th March 2019

Kath and Angie Scholes have been looking for a renovation opportunity and have spotted a promising but tired looking farmhouse on the edge of a Bedfordshire village.

The couple have three children between them and need at least four bedrooms. This property only has three, so will need an extension as well as a thorough refurbishment to bring it up to modern standards.

Kath and Angie are unsure about the kind of planning permission that would be required for the project. Could this be a viable opportunity for them to create their dream home?

The property

Positioned just on the outskirts of a village, this farmhouse features a brick and tile exterior. There is a scattering of other homes close by, but none immediately adjacent, so no real constraints from privacy issues or overlooking.

There is an old outhouse and a shed at the back, which is L-shaped, that don’t seem to serve any particular purpose.

The house doesn’t appear to have had any work carried out on it for several decades, so the kitchen and bathrooms do require some modernising. The windows are single glazed and there’s a rather ugly front porch that needs replacing.

The big question for Kath and Angie, however, is whether it would be possible to build a two-storey extension at the back. This would add that vital fourth bedroom, another bathroom on the first floor and enable the creation of a large kitchen-dining area. These latter changes are a must if the abode is to meet the family’s needs.

Planning basics – making the preliminary checks

When you’re looking to undertake significant alterations to an old property, the first thing to check is whether it’s listed, as this can restrict the scope for change and add considerable cost and uncertainty to a project. Thankfully, Kath and Angie have searched the Historic England website and discovered that the house is not registered there. 

Farmhouse in bedfordshire

They’ve also checked the council’s local plan to see if the dwelling lies within any conservation areas, or is subject to any other planning designations, like being situated within greenbelt or an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB).

Read more: What you need to know before buying a period home

Again, none of these apply. They’ve looked up its history on the local authority’s website, and apart from a new garage in the 1990s, no additions to the building are shown in the records.

All of this means that the generous permitted development (PD) rights for detached houses remain in place for this property.

Even if their scheme did need formal planning approval, local policy allows for extensions in any case, as long as they aren’t disproportionate to the original building. So, on the face of it, there are no particular red flags to suggest Kath and Angie’s proposal is unrealistic.

None of the internal works would need consent, nor would changing the windows to double glazing or removing the jumble of outbuildings at the back. Installing a better-placed shed to replace the crumbling one in the garden would also likely be fine.

Permitted development

Porches of up to 3m² on the ground and 3m high are allowed under PD, but Kath and Angie would like to replace the existing flat-roofed structure with something characterful and interesting, adding a pitched covering and exposed oak timbers.

However, this is likely to take them just over the tolerance limit for acceptable development, so they’ll need to make an application for this element.

Permitted development rights enable both rear and side extensions, although the latter can only be single-storey. New two-storey additions of up to 3m deep from the rear wall are acceptable without planning permission, but this isn’t far enough for Kath and Angie, who’d like to increase the space by about 4.5.

 

Another issue is that building in the L-shaped gap at the property’s rear would mean adding to both the rear and the side, so any new side section could only ever be on one floor.

Nonetheless, Kath and Angie should not lose sight of the considerable scope to extend both the side and rear with a single-storey PD addition. These rights could prove to be a useful bargaining chip when they’re seeking approval from the council.

Their replacement shed would also be a permitted development, provided it’s not more than 4m high – assuming it has a pitched roof – and is more than 2m from any boundary.

Planning permission

The local authority would have to agree to the entrance and two-storey rear extension. Kath and Angie’s ideas for the porch would clearly enhance the appearance of the residence so would be very unlikely to prove contentious.

Any addition to the rear of the house would make quite a large change, but still shouldn’t be considered disproportionate in scale, given the way it would infill an L-shape and wouldn’t stretch past the greatest width and depth of the existing structure.

Without any immediate neighbours, there would be no overlooking from new upper floor windows, which can be an issue with two-storey constructions. The fact that the property has only had minimal alterations before is helpful.

Subject to achieving a sympathetic design, there’s no reason to think that planning permission wouldn’t be immediately forthcoming.

First steps

Kath and Angie don’t want to risk buying this property only to discover they can’t do what they want with it.

That risk appears very low in this instance, but the pair could get informal pre-application advice from the council, which operates a walk-in advice service for local householder projects.

There’s no guarantees with this sort of off-the-cuff help, but it should give them some comfort.
The fact that the couple don’t yet own this home isn’t a bar to accessing this guidance.

Farmhouse in bedfordshire

They could also talk to a local architect or building designer – they will need someone to design the extension anyway, and a local professional’s knowledge of how the council applies its extension policies should help to reassure them during the process.

It is not usually possible, with a house like this, to make an offer to buy subject to gaining planning consent.

However, the fact they already have permitted development rights is a significant plus – the couple can argue to the council that their new compact, two-storey structure would actually be a lot smaller than the sprawling side and rear single-storey constructions that would be allowed through this legislation.

Conclusions

This dwelling offers great potential to create the type of accommodation Kath and Angie seek. They’re rightly cautious and don’t want to buy and then discover they can’t build what they’d like, but here the risks are minimal.

It’s not so much about if they can achieve their goal, but more about how they do it.

The pair should ensure that they have a little flexibility in their design ideas to meet any particular likes or dislikes of the planning officer, then check in with the council and a local architect.

After that, they should be able to buy with some confidence that – with regards to planning, at least – they’ll be able to do exactly what they want.

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