Test Valley planners have voted narrowly in favour of replacing a barn with a home.

The scheme, at Rectory Hill in West Dean, was permitted by six votes to four.

It was controversial because the barn already had permission, granted two years ago, for the change of use from a barn to a house, under Class Q regulations.

Class Q covers the conversion of agricultural buildings into homes. But the committee heard that the barn had been structurally unsound when that permission was granted and so incapable of being converted.

The developer, Mr and Mrs Parsons, have subsequently returned with an application to demolish the barn and build a new home.

That sparked a councillor of the committee to say he was "worried about Class Q being used as a subterfuge".

The application was permitted by Test Valley Borough Council's southern area planning committee on Tuesday, November 28. 

In the planning report, it said: “The proposed development is a departure from the Test Valley Borough Revised Local Plan 2016 in that it is contrary to policy COM2. However, there is an extant and implementable planning permission in place to convert the building on site to a residential dwelling. The likely residential use of the site is a significant factor in determining this application and weighs significantly in favour of granting permission. 

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Hampshire Chronicle: Philip Chalkley speaking to the southern area planning committee

“Considering this, coupled with the proposal not resulting in any adverse impacts on the character and appearance of the surrounding area, heritage, amenity, highways or ecology, permission is recommended subject to conditions.”

Cllr John Parker said: “This is particularly challenging. We're worried about Class Q being used as a subterfuge. 

“However, this application will result in the same building as the fall back position. So, it causes no more harm. The only concern is that it challenges the validity of Class Q.”

A neighbour of the site, Philip Chalkley, told the meeting that he had concerns over the application after hearing that the current barn would not be strong enough for conversion. 

Mr Chalkley, of West Dean, said: “At a parish council meeting, the applicant revealed that the reason for applying to demolish and rebuild the barn was that the steels which formed the structure of the barn were not strong enough to allow conversion.

“The previous applications would not have been granted if we knew what we know now. I have urged planners to get the structural engineers to say, in writing, that the barn can be converted as planned. 

“The committee should seek further clarity before deciding this.”

Cllr Alan Dowden proposed a condition to ensure trees on the site would be preserved. The committee agreed to ask for a tree development plan. 

The committee approved the scheme by six votes to four.