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Amendments to rights permitting conversion of agricultural buildings to residential use

Permitted development rights grant a national planning permission which, subject to conditions, allow certain building work and changes of use without the need to make a full planning application.

From 15th April 2015 the legislation enabling the change of use of agricultural buildings into dwelling houses by permitted development was amended. Formerly known as Class MB, the updated Class Q continues to enable the change of use of an agricultural building into a maximum of three dwelling houses with a cumulative floor space of up to 450m2 on an established agricultural unit.

Before beginning development, an individual must apply to their Local Planning Authority (LPA) for determination as to whether prior approval is necessary. This prior approval will consider the design or external appearance of the building, transport, highways and noise impacts of the development and flooding and contamination risks.

Across Brown & Co we are finding the attitudes of LPA’s differ greatly, with some taking a pragmatic view and supporting the re-use of rural buildings, whilst others are more pessimistic and have a different interpretation of the detail.
However the most contentious consideration continues to be ‘whether the location or siting of the building makes it otherwise impractical or undesirable for the building to change from agricultural use to dwelling house’.

Following a relatively low permission rate under the predecessor legislation (Class MB), the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) issued guidance to clarify issues with sustainability and suitability for a change of use to be acceptable. This has removed some of the earlier contentions and enabled better delivery of the legislation.
The DCLG require Local Planning Authorities to apply a reasonable ordinary dictionary meaning in making any judgment. ‘Impractical’ reflects that the location and siting would “not be sensible or realistic”, and ‘undesirable’ reflects that it would be “harmful or objectionable”.

However, there may be circumstances where the impact cannot be mitigated. For example, a LPA may consider an agricultural building on top of a hill with no road access or utility connections to be impractical for conversion. The location of the building may also be undesirable if it is adjacent to other objectionable uses such as indoor pig or poultry buildings.

Brown & Co have recently had success under Class Q for the conversion of a farm building in close proximity to an indoor pig unit by conditioning the occupation of the building to a farm worker where noise and or smell are occupational norms.

Conversion under Class Q assumes that the building is capable of functioning as a dwelling but recognises that some building operations will be necessary. The right allows for the installation or replacement of windows, doors, roofs, exterior walls, water, drainage, electricity, gas or other services to the extent reasonably necessary for the building to function as a dwelling house; and partial demolition to the extent reasonably necessary. The building must also be capable of conversion without significant structural works tantamount to demolition and rebuild.

The most notable change introduced by Class Q requires applications to be completed within three years of the permission as opposed to the commencement only which was previously the case. This change appears to be aimed at the delivery of rural housing but also limits the flexibility of applicants who will now need to invest in a project sooner than they might otherwise.

Ultimately, Class Q continues to present exciting opportunities to add value by utilising agricultural buildings for conversion resulting in permission for a dwelling in the countryside where development would not typically be permitted. However, when considering change of use of agricultural buildings, it is also important to consider local planning policy which may be appropriate, particularly for traditional farm buildings.