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    Historic farmbuildings:Constructing the evidence base

    Peter Gaskell and Stephen Owen

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    Historic farm buildings:Constructing the evidence base

    Peter Gaskell and Stephen Owen

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    ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

    English Heritage and the Countryside Agencycommissioned the project on which this monographis based. We are par ticularly grateful to the ProjectManagement Group that supervised the project Stephen Trow, Jeremy Lake and Kathy Perrin from EnglishHeritage, and Andr Berry and Carol Somper from the

    Countryside Agency for their support and guidance.

    We are indebted also to the many organisations andindividuals who par ticipated in the research. In particular,we should like to thank all the local authority officerswho provided information and the staff who diligentlycompleted the forms for the planning history survey;Government Agencies, professional organisations andvoluntary bodies who agreed to be interviewed; andthe English Heritage farm buildings panel who providedinsights on various aspects of the research. We should

    also like to thank the Planning Officers Society and localauthority officers who assisted in the development of the

    planning history survey methodology. Finally, we shouldlike to thank the staff at the Images of England projectand the National Monuments Record in Swindon fortheir help and assistance with the photographic survey.

    The research project was undertaken by the Countryside

    and Community Research Unit at the University ofGloucestershire. The research team, led by Peter Gaskell,comprised Michael Clark, Nigel Curry, Jennifer Deadman,Philip Johnson, James Kirwan, Nick Lewis, Jane Mills,Stephen Owen, Carl Sandford, Becky Stickland, EmilyWhite and Nick Wright. Bob Ford of the University ofBirmingham provided specialist assistance on the samplingand statistical analysis components of the project.

    Source:Images of England Dale Venn LRPS

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    Traditional farm buildings are amongst the mostubiquitous of historic building types in the countryside.They are fundamental to its sense of place, its localdistinctiveness and its historic interest. They also representa major economic asset in terms of their capacity toaccommodate new uses in buildings, which, by definition,are in keeping with local countr yside character.

    Arguably, the restructuring of the farming industry andother processes taking place in the countryside meanthat traditional farm buildings are more susceptibleto change now and in the future than any othercomparable group of historic structures. This process ofchange provides both potential threats to the historicinterest of these buildings and real opportunities to givethem renewed life in the 21st century.

    In 2002, the Countryside Agency and English Heritagesponsored a landmark conference, Rural Regeneration:

    A Sustainable Future for Farm Buildings, organised bythe Historic Farm Buildings Group, which looked at

    the current state of the building stock and its potentialfor the future. The main theme that emerged from theconference was that, despite the undoubted historic,scenic and economic importance of the historic farmbuilding stock, there is a remarkable lack of basicinformation on its size, character, condition and trajectoryof change. Without such basic information, informed andsensitive management of change and effective targeting ofscarce resources will not be possible.

    This monograph, describing work commissioned fromthe University of Gloucestershire by the two agencies, isa first step towards addressing this information deficit. Farmore remains to be done.

    English Heritage and Natural England, as successor to thelandscape, access and recreation responsibilities of theCountryside Agency, will continue to work together andwith a wide range of other partners, to ensure that the

    traditional farm buildings of England make as important acontribution to the future as they have done to the past.

    PREFACE BY ENGLISH HERITAGE AND

    THE COUNTRYSIDE AGENCY

    Source:Images of England Mr Clive Read LRPS

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    Historic farm buildings are an integral part of theagricultural landscape of England and an importantcultural and economic resource. Some continue to playa par t in agricultural production and, increasingly, theyhave a role in farm diversification as places to live andwork. However, they are also a threatened resource.

    Many have been poorly converted, to the detriment oftheir historic character and interest. Many more are nolonger appropriate for their original purpose and, withinthe context of a changing rural economy, are becomingredundant and vulnerable to neglect and subsequentdemolition. An understanding of the character andcondition of the resource, as well as the forces thatdrive change in historic farm buildings, is vital if informeddecisions are to be made about their future.

    In 2001 English Heritage and the Countr yside Agency

    commissioned the Countryside & Community ResearchUnit to under take research into the nature, condition and

    management of English historic farmsteads. The overallaims of the research were:

    to provide baseline data on the character andmanagement of, and threats to, listed agriculturalbuildings in rural areas;

    to determine the factors that precipitate change inmanagement of the historic farm building resource.

    To fulfil these aims an exhaustive range of researchmethods was used, combining desk study with theanalysis of empirical information from databases orcollected via questionnaires, and telephone and personalinterviews.

    Working agricultural buildings, as distinct fromfarmhouses, comprise the largest category of listed

    buildings considered to be at risk. They tend to be inworse condition than other types of building. Over half

    ABSTRACT

    Source:Countryside Agency Anne Katrin Purkiss

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    the agricultural list entries have been subject to planningapplications since 1980 and at least one in five list entrieswith working farmstead buildings has had permissionfor a change of use, mainly into permanent dwellings.Conversion for employment and businesses is far lesscommon.

    Conversion to alternative uses can have a significantadverse impact on the character and landscape settingof a working farmstead building. Pressure for conversioncomes mainly from increased demand for dwellings asrural populations rise and communications improve.This has coincided with a corresponding change inGovernment planning policy towards encouragingeconomic, sustainable development in rural areas, partlyto counteract the decline of agriculture. These drivers arelikely to persist into the future and further increase thepace at which conversion is taking place.

    Local authorities vary greatly in their policy towardshistoric working farmstead buildings. Just over half offergrants for the upkeep of mainly listed buildings, butonly very small sums are available. Fewer than half of allauthorities monitor changes to these buildings. Fewerthan half of the Local Plans examined explicitly recognisethe contribution of farm buildings to the historicenvironment, and the majority make no reference toprotecting historic character when considering re-use.Plans at all spatial levels indicate a strong preference foremployment-related rather than residential use. This isusually justified as causing less damage to the characterof buildings and providing greater economic benefits.The planning system generally resists new developmentin rural areas and this can redirect the pressure fordevelopment onto existing rural buildings, includingfarmsteads.

    Few stakeholders feel that local planning policiessatisfactorily integrate the two main objectives of nationalplanning policy with regard to historic farm buildings:fostering economic re-use and conserving a valuable

    historic asset. This is attributed to a lack of guidance onthe reconciliation of these objectives. National policy isalso thought to be insufficiently sensitive to differencesbetween places, economic circumstances and differentbuildings. While national policy has favoured re-use ofworking farmstead buildings for employment purposes,conversions are almost always to dwellings, for whichthe demand is greatest and profits may be highest. Manylocal authority conservation officers feel that residentialconversions are often of poor quality and that nationalpolicy allows them to take place too easily. Applicants

    for permission for change of use, though, feel this resultsfrom poor design rather than the intrinsic nature of

    residential conversion; they believe national policy is toorestrictive.

    In terms of best practice in the conversion of workingfarmstead buildings, strong but flexible planning policiesenable adaptation to individual circumstances within afirm framework. Architects are deemed to be the key

    players, while a sympathetic owner is considered almostas important. Pre-application consultation is criticalin determining the success of a scheme; it improvesrelationships between participants and results in lownumbers of planning permission refusals. Other importantfactors include the use and availability of local materialsand traditional methods, the availability of good-qualityplanning guidance and a good working relationshipbetween the local planning authority an