Give your redundant buildings a new lease of life

17.1.22 3 MINUTE READ

buildings - Rural Outlook 24pp brochure 2021

Now is an excellent time to review existing uses on your farm or estate and consider opportunities for the future.

Class Q permitted development rights allow the change of use and conversion of buildings from agriculture to residential use by securing prior approval from your local council for the development, rather than needing to apply for planning permission.

It is now possible to provide up to five new dwellings on an ‘established agricultural unit’ through the use of Class Q. The maximum floor area for conversion has also been increased from 450 to 865 sq m, depending on how the dwellings are arranged.

More specifically, the following development is currently allowed under Class Q:
• Up to three larger homes within a combined maximum floor space of 465 sq m;
• Up to five smaller homes, each no larger than 100 sq m; and
• A mix of both, within a total of no more than five homes, of which no more than three units may be larger homes.

The significant permissible floor area provides great opportunity for redundant buildings. The possibility of five dwellings is enabling landowners to think in a more savvy way in order to maximise their property’s potential.

We continue to hear that the Government is committed to providing new housing, but many rural housing developments would be contrary to planning policy. Therefore, Class Q is often the best chance of achieving a new home in a rural location.

But, it is important to note that Class Q is not available for Listed buildings or buildings that fall within a Conservation Area, or other similarly protected sites.

Other stringent criteria must also be met, and applications will be assessed regarding transport, highways and noise impacts, contamination and flood risks.

The building must be suitable for conversion to residential use without ‘rebuilding’, structurally able to take the loading of the residential conversion, and the design and external appearance of the proposed conversion must also be deemed to be appropriate.

House prices and development plot values in rural and semi-rural areas continue to remain high, with significant demand. This can be a key means of generating income or unlocking value from your farm buildings.

Structural requirements have been debated at great length, with many local planning authorities taking different approaches. However, some clarity can be offered from the case of Hibbitt v Secretary of State [2016] and Government guidance, which ultimately confirms that if the extent of works required to change the use of the building amount to ‘rebuilding’ rather than ‘conversion’, then the proposal will fall outside the scope of Class Q.

So, while Class Q permitted development rights certainly present a greater opportunity for the conversion of agricultural buildings, achieving approval is not a straightforward process, with applications often meeting resistance from the council. Class Q remains the least successful form of permitted development, with around 40 to 50% of all applications nationally being refused. The refusal rate is significantly higher than this in some local authorities, so it is important to do your research on past applications in your local area to see how planning officers are assessing them. However, our success rate at Bidwells remains in the region of 95%.

Your application must be well thought through in order to give your application the greatest chance of success.

It is also important to highlight Class R permitted development rights, which allow for the change of use of buildings from agriculture to a flexible commercial use. This can be implemented in the Green Belt, Conservation Areas and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The range of commercial uses available include shops, financial and professional services, restaurants and cafes, offices, light industrial, storage and distribution, hotels, and assembly and leisure use.

Class R allows for the change of use of up to 500 sq m per established agricultural unit. Applications are assessed with regard to highways, noise, contamination and flood risk. There is no structural requirement, so Class R rights can be utilised on buildings that would not meet Class Q’s strict criteria.

If the application is for a change of use of less than 150 sq m on the agricultural unit, then all that is required is simply a 56-day notification, with no assessment from the local authority. This is a very handy tool to have!

If your intention is to provide a dwelling but you don’t have a building suitable for Class Q, then Class R can be used as a steppingstone. Essentially, Class R will create previously developed (brownfield) land. Following the creation of brownfield land, there is far greater policy support for redevelopment, therefore a new house could be achievable via this route.

There are areas which have clearly suffered within the rural sector and an ever increasing need to diversify. There is so much scope to enhance value and income through the implementation of change of use permitted development rights, so now is the time to take stock of your buildings.


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Louise Newton

Partner, Rural

A leading industry expert, Louise is recognised for her wealth of knowledge and experience in rural diversification, planning, and development.

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