A Government planning inspector was faced with the conundrum of whether a derelict barn had previously been used for agriculture or equestrian purposes.
On such a technicality are decisions made.
Abdullah Gokteke had appealed the decision of South Cambridgeshire District Council to refuse its conversion to a home.
A year ago, the council claimed that insufficient evidence has been provided “to establish if the building had been used as part of a working agricultural holding on or before 20 March 2013 and that there has been no other intervening use”.
As such, ruled the council, it failed to qualify under permitted development rights.
The council said the building at Gage Farm, Branch Road, Comberton, would require extensive repairs to the frame of the existing building.
“The works also require new walls, roof covering and floor to be installed,” said the council in its conclusions.
Appeal fails says Planning Inspectorate
“Therefore, it is considered that the proposed building operations would go beyond that which could be classed as a conversion of the building.”
Mr Gokteke appealed to the Planning Inspectorate, but a planning inspector has agreed with the council and refused his application.
David Cross, the inspector, said that if it had been used for agriculture there should have been no intervening or other use.
The agricultural use should also be the extant or last use of the site, with no intervening or other use.
He said Gorteke referred to a sequence of planning decisions from the 1970’s and up to the 1980’s which “indicate that the property was in agricultural use at that time.
“However, more recent proposals for residential development at the site specify that the land was used for equestrian activities, which cannot be considered to be either agricultural or forestry buildings and should therefore be assessed as previously developed land.
“This approach was agreed by the council”.
A previous proposal was subject to scrutiny through a planning application which was refused permission and subsequently dismissed at appeal, he said.
Mr Cross said the applicant had explained that the previous proposal was based on an error, in that their then planning agent assumed that the buildings in the appellant’s landholding were stables on the basis of a planning search which referred to stables on a nearby plot of land.
History of the site explained
“The appellant highlights that the council’s officer report on the previous proposal refers to the application for stables on the neighbouring site as part of the planning history for the appellant’s landholding,” said Mr Cross.
“However, a planning permission for stables on a neighbouring plot of land is not substantive evidence that buildings on the appellant’s landholding were not used for equestrian purposes.”
The inspector said he had considered evidence from Mr Gorteke who had contended that throughout the relevant time the appeal property was part of an agricultural unit used for farming livestock and referred to the beef-raising and fattening unit described in a 1976 appeal decision.
“However, this does not demonstrate that there was no intervening use since,” said Mr Cross.
“The appellant also states that local enquiries confirm that the site’s last use was for agriculture, although this is only referred to in general terms and is not supported by sworn affidavits or third-party statements.”
Mr Cross said the onus of proof on some of the issues rested with Mr Gorteke “and even given a degree of uncertainty about the use of the appeal site and any agricultural unit” the evidence “is not persuasive”.
The inspector said on “balance and based on the evidence before me, I conclude that the appellant has provided insufficient information to establish whether the appeal site was used solely for an agricultural use as part of an established agricultural unit on or before 20 March 2013 and whether there has been no intervening or other use”.
Mr Cross said it was not the intention of the permitted development right to allow rebuilding work which would go beyond what is reasonably necessary for the conversion of the building to residential use.
Permitted development right query
“Therefore, it is only where the existing building is already suitable for conversion to residential use that the building would be considered to have the permitted development right,” he said.
At the time he visited “the building was an open frame with no cladding.
“The council also refers to a lack of a floor in the building as set out in the previous structural report”.
Mr Cross said: “Given what I have seen and read, the existing building consists of a skeletal open frame and has existed as such for a material period of time, which includes the date of the application regarding prior approval.
“Given the extant state of the building, the proposal would require new walls and a roof over the entire external envelope. A new floor pad would also need to be provided.
“The scale and nature of the works would involve rebuilding work which would go beyond what is reasonably necessary to convert the building to a residential use and would in effect represent a rebuild.
Major works would be required
“Even if the frame is retained and would be capable of supporting the resultant building, as a matter of fact and degree the extent of works exceed what could reasonably be described as a conversion”.
Comberton parish council (the village is four miles south west of Cambridge) had told planners the site “is very important with regard to the village framework”.
The parish council raised the issue of a surveyor’s report which pointed out that cladding had been removed from the barn concrete frame for survey.
“Whereas it was removed by the fire brigade as they dealt with a deliberately caused major fire on the site in June 2018,” said the parish council.
They argued the site is in green belt and not sustainable given the distance from the village and lack of footpath and lighting.
“The site is open at present even the barn structure lacking cladding does not harm the sense of openness in the same way as a completed building,” said the council.
“Putting a building in its place contradicts this comment. Comberton parish council requests that the change of use be denied.”
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