Draft Local Plan October 2012

Re-use of Non-Residential Buildings

6.24 Many existing buildings throughout West Oxfordshire, such as barns, mills, schools and chapels, are built in the vernacular style (using local building styles and materials). These buildings are a key part of the character and history of settlements and of the wider landscape and many are listed for their architectural or historic interest. Many are no longer needed for their original purpose due to changing farming techniques, school and church closures. The best way to secure the upkeep of such buildings and their contribution to the character of the area is to keep them in active use. Re-using buildings also reduces the need for new building and creates the opportunity to provide unobtrusive economic activities, community facilities and housing. Re-use of existing buildings will continue to help deliver local housing and economic objectives, particularly in the rural areas.

6.25 In accordance with the overall strategy, conversion to residential use is more appropriate within towns and villages with services and facilities. Elsewhere, priority will be given to re-use for business, tourism or community uses where non-residential uses would be viable and suitable for the location. Suitable buildings for re-use will be of substantial and permanent construction and the Council may require structural surveys to demonstrate buildings are capable of conversion. Ecological surveys are also likely to be required as many redundant buildings provide habitats for protected species such as Barn Owls and bats.

6.26 It is not the objective to prolong the life of buildings (such as modern farm buildings) that are harmful to the high visual quality of the area. There are a large number of modern, mainly agricultural, buildings scattered throughout the District. Whilst necessary for modern agriculture, many detract from the visual quality of the countryside and their general re-use, particularly for business use, could lead to a very dispersed pattern of development contrary to the overall strategy and having an adverse impact on the character and tranquillity of rural areas. Opportunities for the re-use of non-vernacular buildings, particularly modern farm buildings, will therefore be limited to more sustainable locations and where they contribute to farm diversification.

6.27 The visual impacts of a proposed building conversion (including light pollution), accessibility and traffic impacts will need to be weighed alongside the contribution of the building to the character and architectural history of the area, or the potential for the building to meet local economic or social needs. In some cases a building may be so isolated and inaccessible, or harmful to the character of the surrounding area, that re-use is not appropriate, particularly in the Cotswolds AONB.

6.28 If the principle of conversion is accepted it is important that detailed proposals respect or improve the original character of the building and its setting. Further guidance is available in the West Oxfordshire Design Guide SPD.

CORE POLICY 13 - Re-use of Non-Residential Buildings

The re-use of existing non-residential buildings will be supported where all of the following criteria are met:

  • the form and design of the building(s) are in keeping with the surroundings prior to conversion.
  • the building(s) are capable of conversion to the proposed use without excessive alteration or extension and without removing features of architectural or nature conservation interest.
  • the building(s) are suitably located for the scale and type of the proposed use, having regard to the level of accessibility to settlements, facilities and services and impact on the character and amenity of the area.

The re-use of non-vernacular buildings, including modern farm buildings, will only be allowed within or adjoining service centres or villages* or where it forms part of a farm diversification scheme (see Core Policy 12) unless the proposed re-use will address a specific local need which would not otherwise be met.

Outside service centres and villages*, conversion to new dwellings will only be allowed where the existing building is not suitable or reasonably capable of re-use for business, recreational or community uses, tourist accommodation or visitor facilities or where the proposal will address a specific local housing need which would not otherwise be met.

* as defined in Core Policy 2