Challenge of converting a barn kicks off new series of answering readers’ queries


    Since the launch of this property section the newspaper has received a number of letters from readers looking for specialist advice when it comes to extending their home or building a new one. That’s why we have teamed up with architectural designer John Bullock who each month will be answering one of your questions. This time round it’s about converting a barn


    Dear Design with the Times,

    We live just outside Tunbridge Wells and have a beautiful listed farmhouse which is set in three acres. In the grounds there is an old barn, and although we’ve lived here for over 20 years the barn has never been used except for the occasional party and as temporary storage when our children returned home from university. The barn is about 60 years old and it is approximately 150 square metres, it is in good condition and has quite an industrial look with a concrete frame and corrugated cladding. It was originally constructed for the farm, which no longer exists. We would like to downsize and wondered if it would be possible to obtain planning permission to convert the barn into a contemporary and more manageable home for ourselves, and if so how much it might cost to convert?

    Ralph and Mary Whiteman


    It is a very interesting time for planning opportunities of this type and there is currently a window of opportunity to convert redundant farm buildings to dwellings. Over the past year we have been successful in obtaining planning permission for several similar projects, however there are a number of principal requirements that need to be fulfilled:

    • The building must be redundant
    • The building must be of sound structural condition
    • The building should be able to be converted without significant extension
    • The development must not harm the building’s character
    • The access, car parking and residential cartilage must not harm the character of the countryside
    • The conversion would meet an identified local need for housing

    With a sensitive design scheme your barn would appear to meet this criteria and it would certainly be worth pursuing. With any design we always feel it’s important to work with the structural style of the building and also its setting to create a design which is site-specific. Here the site appears to be fairly well screened and it is best to work with the building to express its industrial character. Externally, replace the corrugated roof with a welded zinc sheet system and integrated gutter. The existing roof may well contain an element of asbestos so it is advisable to arrange for a specialist to check this. On the walls vertical oak cladding would add a tactile element. Over time the zinc will dull to a ‘watering can’ grey and the walls will silver and the building will blend into the landscape. Internally, vault the ceilings to express the form of the external envelope. Light can also be brought into the space by way of windows in the roof. Work with the internal floor area to create pure contemporary–feeling spaces. Divide the barn to create two bedrooms, each with its own en-suite dressing room and bathroom, and then leave the larger area for open-plan living with kitchen, dining and sitting areas.

    A formal planning application would be necessary and with this submission an ecological assessment would be required. This would need to be undertaken by a specialist who would visit the site to establish if there is evidence of any protected species in habitation such as bats or barn owls. If there is it doesn’t stop development but measures would need to be put in place to accommodate these. For example, the ecologist might suggest bat or owl boxes on the outside of the building. It would also be necessary to employ the services of a structural engineer to assess the structure and confirm that the building is in sound structural condition and can be converted without significant remedial works. Once planning permission is granted it will last for three years, and if at any time you formally commence works the permission will be retained in perpetuity.

    It is quite difficult to cost the project at this early stage, and after planning is granted detailed drawings would need to be prepared and a formal tender process undertaken. However, and as a guide, we are currently seeing tender costs for this type of work returning between £1,750 and £2,250 per metre depending upon the level of specification. If we took the midway price the conversion costs are likely to be somewhere in the region of £300,000, but you would also need to factor in costs for services and finishes in addition to this and also VAT. You should be eligible for a reduced VAT rate of 5 per cent for conversion of a farm building to form a dwelling, but check this with your accountant.

    If you have a question you’d like John Bullock to answer then please email it to: or

    Please mark the subject as: Design Team

    You can also write to us at:

    Design Team
    Times of Tunbridge Wells/Tonbridge
    16 Lonsdale Gardens
    Tunbridge Wells
    TN1 1NU

    John Bullock
    Architectural services

    Having studied at Edinburgh College of Art and The Royal Academy of The Hague, John Bullock launched John Bullock Design in 2003. With offices in Tunbridge Wells High Street, John has won awards for his work and is committed to delivering the best outcomes for clients.