Greater Flexibility for Converting Agricultural Buildings

Changes to Class Q Permitted Development Rights

The Government published its draft revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) on the 5th March 2018.  This was closely followed by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) issuing a statement on the 12th March advocating that rural communities will be given more options to convert agricultural buildings into family homes to meet local housing needs. Dominic Raab, the Housing Minister said:

“We need to be more creative if we are to meet the housing needs of rural communities. That’s why I’m changing the planning rules so rural communities have more flexibility on how best to use existing buildings to deliver more much needed homes for families. This is part of our comprehensive reform programme to build the homes Britain needs”.

The class Q regulations have been with us since 2014 and originally allowed the conversion of agricultural buildings up to 3 dwellings on an agricultural unit up to a maximum floorspace of 450 square metres. The amended regulations, effective from 6th April 2018, allow for a development of up to 5 smaller dwellings (up to 100 square metres each) or the change of use to 3 larger dwellings (i.e. more than 100 square metres), not exceeding 465 square metres.  These more flexible provisions can be combined to deliver up to 5 dwellings per agricultural unit subject to individual floor space limitations, although no more than 3 dwellings may be ‘larger dwellings’.  Class Q floorspace limits have been the subject of much debate since the amended regulations were introduced and recent appeal decisions confirm that there is scope to change the use of agricultural buildings up to a maximum combined floorspace of 865 square metres.  This is based on a theoretical scenario of one larger dwelling up to 465 square metres and 4 smaller dwellings, of 100 square metres each.

Since 2014, we have seen significant inconsistency in the way the Class Q Regulations are being applied by local planning authorities, particularly with regard to structural alterations and the extent of building works that are allowed. Local planning authorities have been reluctant to work with Applicant’s proactively and Government statistics indicate that only 42% of previous Class Q applications have been approved.

The planning practice guidance, together with key landmark court decisions, have provided greater clarity over some of the more contentious issues relating to Class Q but it remains to be seen whether we will see a more positive handling of prior approval applications by local planning authorities. However, the Government has signalled its firm commitment towards promoting rural housing, including Class Q conversions.

If you are thinking about exploring the options available to you under Class Q we would be delighted to hear from you. Whilst the changes to Class Q are a step in the right direction, there remains a lot of inconsistency over the application of Class Q permitted development rights and we would recommend that you seek our professional assistance to optimise your chances of a successful application.