Changes in planning rights could spell disaster for the Surrey Hills

14th September 2023

The UK Government’s proposal to allow the conversion of agricultural buildings to houses represents a significant threat to the beauty and rural economy of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), according to the Chair of the AONB Board. The Surrey Hills was designated in 1958 and, like every AONB in the country, has the same levels of protection as a National Park. It is a highly valued landscape appreciated by millions of people in Surrey, London and nationally.

The Government’s proposal to allow the extension of what are known as Permitted Development Rights, would give free rein for landowners to convert rural buildings into houses without having to go through the usual planning approval system. It could result in agricultural buildings, stables, rural workshops, farm shops, and tourist accommodation being converted into new housing whilst doing virtually nothing to meet affordable housing needs in the Surrey Hills.

Kathy Atkinson, Chair of the Surrey Hills Board comments.

“Planning decisions shape not only the physical character but also the nature and biodiversity of the Surrey Hills. We all agree that more affordable housing is needed right across the South East of England, but this latest proposal by the government is not the mechanism to deliver it. It also risks jeopardising the rural economy for businesses who rely on rural premises.

Everyone who lives and works in the Surrey Hills is familiar with the housing pressures here, and the sky-high costs of both housing and commercial premises. Turning agricultural buildings that may serve a whole range of functions into what are most likely to be exclusive, luxury homes, to be sold at price points way out of reach of most of Surrey’s residents, flies in the face of the whole purpose of designating the Surrey Hills as a nationally protected landscape.”


The potential impact of the proposed changes to Permitted Development Rights (PDR) was presented to the Surrey Hills Board AGM at Box Hill on 13th September, by the Surrey Hills Planning Officer, Clive Smith. Clive explained,

“It’s important to understand that there is not a ban on converting agricultural buildings, even now. Anyone wishing to convert their buildings into housing must go through the normal planning process. It is in the public interest that applications for conversions continue to be given the consideration they deserve, given the nationally protected status of the Surrey Hills. We are sympathetic to farmers and landowners who wish to convert their buildings, provided such conversions do not conflict with national and local planning policy.”

We encourage responses to the Government consultation by the deadline of 25th September 2023. The consultation link can be found here.

The full Surrey Hills submission can be found here.