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Converting a barn into a holiday cottage

Converting a barn into a holiday cottage can be a financially lucrative and incredibly rewarding experience. With a rise in holiday makers looking to escape to the country, farmers and landowners have seen the value in converting their unused barns and outbuildings into holiday accommodation. This provides a valuable source of income from outside the agricultural sector.

There are numerous factors to consider before, during and after converting a barn into a holiday cottage, so it is, crucial to have a basic understanding of what will ultimately be involved in the process. Particularly with regards to what is needed in terms of the planning process and how to realise all of your development ambitions.

We chatted to rural planning expert Alister Smith from Stags who outlined key considerations when converting a barn into a holiday cottage.

Use the quick links below to read about a particular topic or continue reading for everything you need to know converting a barn into a holiday cottage.

What are the benefits of converting a barn into a holiday let?

Benefits of a holiday let

A barn conversion into any form of holiday letting accommodation can be a very profitable investment. With many people now choosing to holiday within the UK, a traditional, rural retreat is a very attractive option.

Converting a barn into a holiday cottage is an amazing opportunity to breathe new life into an existing, redundant building.  Not only is it a great way to make additional income, but it can have environmental benefits too. Re-using existing structures makes full use of the embodied carbon already contained in that structure.

Is planning permission required when converting a barn to a holiday cottage?

Yes – converting an unused barn or farm building into a holiday let for paying guests will require planning permission from your local authority.

As with many things in the planning system it may not be a straightforward process, so understanding the rules on planning permission for holiday lets is vital. Read our planning permission blog to find out more.

What is ‘Class Q’ Permitted Development?

Class Q Permitted Development (PD) rights are in effect ‘blanket planning permission’ to convert agricultural barns to dwelling houses (which can also be used as holiday lets). In the right circumstances, this can be a much simpler affair than a full planning application.

However, there are key limitations to Class Q Permitted Development rights to be aware of.

  • The rights only apply to agricultural buildings that are not listed and are outside of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
  • There are also floor area limitations and only a total number of 5 dwellings can be created under these rights.

A number of other restrictions also apply and getting the right advice early on is essential. Even if Class Q does not apply converting a barn under a full planning application may be possible, depending on the planning policies for the area.

What steps must I take to convert my unused barn to a holiday property?

Barn conversion

The steps needed to convert an unused barn to a holiday cottage will depend on whether you go down the full application or Class Q route.

Step 1: As a starting point, it is advisable to involve a Planning Consultant or Architect to advise on the principle of development and manage the planning process for you. This type of enquiry is one we deal with often and having both planning and design professionals in house means Stags are well placed to help.  

Step 2: Following on from this a structural survey is required. This is to show the Council the intended works. It is needed to support either type of application that may be applicable to your project.

Step 3: Whilst not essential for Class Q, a full application normally requires an ecological survey to determine whether any protected species – such as bats, newts or otters, are present on site. Even with a Class Q such an ecological survey may be requested. If there is any likelihood that protected species may be present, you will need a survey before carrying out any works.

Step 4: Another point to consider is the access to the site. If there are any issues to how the barn is accessed, a highways survey will also need to be conducted early on.

These steps can all largely be undertaken at once, or sometimes it is better to work through them one at a time to ensure abortive cost is avoided.

While you will likely need surveys and basic design work to present concepts to the Council, detailed drawings plans should only be done once you are certain all the possible issues have been addressed.

After all these elements are pulled together it should be a fairly simply process of submission to the Council and hopefully a positive decision will be awarded. However, even with good advice early on it is always advisable to have a plan B in place in case of delays with the Council or if they make requests for additional information.

What do I need to know when buying a barn conversion?

buying a barn conversion in the west country

The precise answer to this will depend on whether you are buying a modern barn conversion or converting one yourself.

Buying a barn conversion

Buying a converted barn requires researching the steps the previous owners have undertaken to create the modern barn conversion. This includes paperwork – planning, access rights etc. and/or physical – adequate drainage, quality of work etc.

In many ways this process is no different to buying a house and many of the enquiries can be handled through the selling Estate Agent and your Solicitor.

Buying and converting a barn into a holiday cottage

If you are buying an unconverted barn your starting point needs to be the likelihood of whether you will obtain planning permission for what you want to do.

After this you need to consider practical aspects such as the suitability of any existing utilities connections or if these don’t exist how these can be secured. And all importantly what are the likely barn conversion costs.

Unfortunately, there really is little point in having planning consent and fantastic design ideas if your budget cannot cover the cost of carrying them out. Again, taking professional advice early on can really help. Stags specialise in planning and designing barn conversions, please contact the team for more information.

Barn conversion ideas

Having a chat with a local Architect or a building design professional and your Helpful Holiday team is a great way to get professional advice.

Here at Helpful Holidays, we will advise you on features to include in your modern barn conversion in order to increase your booking potential. Please call our team on 01647 433593to book a property visit. Please note the barn can be under development but you must own the property before a visit can be booked.

Best use of space

Don’t be tempted to compromise on storage space; bedrooms too small for wardrobes and entrance halls with no place to store boots and coats won’t impress guests. There are clever storage ideas available, so be creative and do your research.

Open-plan living

Holiday cottage interior

The current trend for open-plan living space is well suited to and perhaps even derived from the ergonomic layout of a traditional barn conversion. Use the space to its full potential. Rather than separating living rooms from kitchens, bring them together to create an innovative, welcoming lounge/kitchen/diner – a room for living.

Warm and cosy

Guests expect effective heating, so central heating, whether via gas, oil, solar or a heat source pump, is a good investment. Similarly, fitting a woodburner or open fire will undoubtedly increase your bookings during the shoulder weeks. Holidaymakers are attracted to the vision of snuggling up by a fire during colder months.

Bedroom to bathroom ratio

In recent years guests’ expectations have surged. En suite bathrooms are preferred, but if that isn’t achievable, aim for a 2:1 ratio of bedrooms to bathrooms. If you can fit in a bath, all the better. A leisurely soak after a hard day’s walking (or shopping) will add to the appeal for guests.


According to the Sykes Staycation Index, properties with WiFi generate 44% more bookings. Now there are good solutions for making WiFi accessible in remote properties so there’s no reason to omit this feature. Large TVs are popular with guests as are Bluetooth speakers or a soundbar.

Outside space

Holiday cottage patio

This area is just as important as the interior, so as much thought and time should be devoted to its planning. Guests love the prospect of sitting outside and relaxing in the evening whilst watching the sun go down. A welcoming outdoor area, however small, will be appreciated.

Quality counts

Once the structural work has been determined then the fun of decorating and choosing fixtures, fittings and furniture can begin. Selecting quality products pays dividends. Your holiday home is not the place to discard old, tired furniture and appliances. Whatever you do, do it well.

Things to consider before diversifying a barn to a holiday let

Fundamentally, any prospective party must ask what their main reason for undertaking such a project is. Setting out goals and objects for the scheme before you begin is key to a successful outcome.

Think about your key values – what’s important to you? Presumably, the answer to this question is your home and the buildings that surround you. Think about the best ways to ensure that a holiday letting business enhances your own living and working environment.

Another key consideration is to ask yourself if you have the time to devote to running a holiday let business. If the answer is, no, but you are still keen to proceed with the project, you will need to think about hiring a holiday let agency.

Finding the right holiday management company for expert advice and support can make all the difference to help you achieve holiday let success. Partnering with a team of industry experts like Helpful Holidays, who specialise in the self-catering holiday market is key to your property’s earning potential and overall success.

Helpful Holidays can manage the marketing, administration and day-to-day bookings of your holiday cottage as well as provide housekeepers and caretakers. Offering you a bespoke service to suit your individual needs. And taking the hassle out of running your own holiday let barn conversion.

What’s the best way to maximise your return on investment?

Lustleigh holiday cottage

First and foremost, make sure there is a market for your proposed barn conversion before you start commissioning any planning or design work. It’s best to speak to a successful holiday letting agent like Helpful Holidays who will be advise you on what the market is looking for.

Once the target audience has been ascertained it is important to seek planning and design advice. Be sure to keep a close eye on costs, especially construction costs which can spiral if not kept under control.

Converting a barn into a holiday cottage in the West Country?

Are you thinking of converting a barn into a holiday cottage in the West Country? The Stags planning and design team have a wealth of experience in successful conversions under full consent and Class Q.  Contact Alister Smith, head of planning services on or call to speak to the team on 01392 439046.

Stags have a unique network of 21 offices in the West Country and can offer exceptional services across all aspects of property, including buying and selling holiday cottages and leisure businesses.

Do you need expert advice on managing your holiday let barn conversion?

Converting a barn into a holiday cottage

At Helpful Holidays, our team of holiday letting experts are on hand to offer advice. We’re happy to help answer any questions you may have on a particular subject. Find out more about letting with us, request your FREE guide or call our team on 01647 433593 today.

For more useful tips, head over to our Owner Advice blog.