Planning Consultant - Chris Scott
Hi, I’m Chris,
I hold an MA in Planning and work as a Planning Consultant

Under the 2015 General Permitted Development Order (GDPO) a right was provided (Schedule 2/Part3/Class Q) for farmers to convert agricultural buildings into residential dwellings. However, with most things in planning, the PD rules have seen quite a few changes and amendments over the years. Furthermore, what is and isn’t allowed under the PD Class Q rights has been contested on several occasions. With this post, I’m going to try and provide the core information of what you need to know. I’m going to profile agricultural to residential conversions under PD as concisely as possible.

Where Agricultural to Residential Use Permitted Development Rules Don’t Apply

So not to waste your time, lets first look at which locations the PD rules for agricultural to residential use are not allowed. These PD rules do not apply in National Parks, Conservation Areas, Areas of Outstanding National Beauty, World Heritage Sites or Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Furthermore, if the agricultural building is Listed or within the area of a Scheduled Ancient Monument PD Class Q rules don’t apply. However, they do apply to agricultural buildings located in the Green Belt.

Peak District National Park Agricultural to Residential Use
The Class Q PD rights for agricultural to residential change of use do not apply to certain areas such as National Parks – Image: Peakdistrict.gov.uk

How many Dwellings can be created?

Under the Class Q PD rules, there are two categories of dwelling:

  • Smaller Homes (up to 100m2 in floor area)
  • Larger Homes (over 100m2 in floor area)

The floor area will be measured up to the interior face of the external walls, covering all floors of the dwelling. This is based on the RICS standard, so discounts the thickness of external walls. The agricultural buildings of a single agricultural unit can be converted into the following number of dwellings:

  • Up to 3 larger homes (up to a total max of 465m2)
  • Up to 5 smaller homes (each home a max of 100m2)
  • A mixture of both larger and smaller homes, with no more than 3 larger homes.

The original 2015 GDPO only allowed for the conversion of up to 3 separate dwelling houses. However, in March 2018 the Housing Minister via press release announced changes to provide a ‘boost for rural families’. Part of this ‘boost’ was to change the Class Q permitted development rules to allow a maximum of 5 instead of 3 dwelling conversions for agricultural buildings.

Maximum Potential Development

As stated on the excellent Planning Law Blog by Martin Goodhall, the theoretical maximum development of 5 dwellings is:

  • 4 x Smaller Homes (100m2 each) = 400m2
  • 1 x Larger Home (of 465m2) = 465m2
  • Maxium Development Floorspace = 865m2

There are many different ways the mix of 5 dwellings of different sizes could work out, but 865m2 is the absolute maximum possible.

What other Restrictions are there on Agricultural to Residential conversions under PD rights?

So as you would expect as with other permitted development rights there are quite a few restrictions you need to adhere to. These include:

The building must have been used for purely Agricultural Use

To comply with Class Q rules the building in question must have been part of an agricultural unit on the 20th March 2013 or some date before. Between prior approval application and the 20th March 2013, there should have been no other use than agricultural. If the agricultural use started after the 20th of March 2013 then the agricultural use must be continuous for a period of 10 years. If requested by the local planning authority (LPA) to provide evidence of agricultural use, it needs to be thorough.

Also, the agricultural use needs to be of a commercial context, to have generated sufficient income to be regarded as a business. If the use was regarded as ‘hobby farming’ by the LPA, they will refuse the prior approval application. However, there is no requirement to prove the agricultural business was the applicant’s main source of income.

No Building Extensions are Permissible

The rules state that under Class Q rules, no extensions are allowed to the ‘external dimensions of the existing building’. Therefore if you are proposing even small additions, you would be required to submit a full planning application. For instance, Herefordshire Council in their guidance on Agricultural to Residential PD conversions state:

“This will inherently preclude the provision of external features, no matter how small or seemingly incidental, such as chimneys, flues, external cladding or steps.”

What type of Repair and Maintenance is allowed under Class Q PD Rules?

While you are not allowed to extend the footprint of the existing building under Class Q rules, certain works are allowed. Importantly, the local planning authority must deem the works ‘reasonably necessary‘.

What can be considered reasonable includes new windows, doors and some works to the roof or external walls. Furthermore, it can also include water and electrical connections, drainage, gas or other services (phone/broadband etc). Partial demolition to carry out such works is also potentially allowed, however, it all comes down to be works been seen as reasonably required. More details below.

What about Structural Works as part of the Conversion?

The information below is a good example of where planning policy and guidance change. Furthermore, why planning advice and feedback are only relevant to a specific point in time. Internal structural works have been potentially allowed under Class Q since the original 2015 GDPO. However, that was not the case with more significant structural works.

With the original Class Q PD rights, there was a decision in the High Court with regards to the interpretation of ‘conversion’. The court determined that while a planning judgement for a case officer, significant demolition and rebuild were not part of a conversion. Therefore, while partial demolition is permissible, it has to be reasonably necessary as part of a conversion. National Planning Policy Guidance (PPG) then reflected this judgement stating:

“It is not the intention of the permitted development right to include the construction of new structural elements for the building. Therefore it is only where the existing building is structurally strong enough to take the loading which comes with the external works to provide for residential use that the building would be considered to have the permitted development right.”

However, when the government changed the GDPO in 2018 and amended the rules around Class Q rights, it also removed the above statement with regards to ‘structural elements’ from the PPG. Therefore, as long the works (potentially a new roof) were agreed to be ‘reasonably necessary‘, they can now come under Class Q agricultural to residential use PD rights.

Landlords and Agricultural Tenants

If the agricultural unit currently has a tenant in place, then express consent is required from both the landlord and tenant as part of the prior approval process. Both the landlord and tenant must state the site is no longer required for agricultural use. In other words, you cannot remove a tenant to carry out the agricultural to residential conversion. If a tenant was previously in place, at least 1 year must have passed after the tenant left before a prior approval application can be made.

How to Secure Prior Approval for Agricultural to Residential Use

So the important thing to note is that Class Q permitted development rights always require a prior approval application first. You cannot receive retrospective permission for the works under PD. As part of the prior approval application, similar submission information is required when compared to a full planning application. Location and Block/Site Plans will be required, along with Floorplans and Elevations of the existing and proposed development.

However, unlike a full planning application for the works and change of use, certain details will not be requested. Under Class Q PD rules, the ecological and biodiversity impacts of the proposal are not a material consideration. Therefore the LPA will not request a bat survey for instance. Although, it is important to note the law around protected species still applies and it is a criminal offence to breach the law.

What will the LPA consider when making their Decision on Prior Approval?

Firstly, they will obviously consider if the core aspects of the Class Q rights are met. As we now know these include prior agricultural use, no extensions and reasonable repair/structural works. However, there are other material considerations which they will consider:

Design Considerations

I’m aware I’ve noted this point above, but it can’t be overemphasised. All proposed works to the exterior of the agricultural building must be deemed to be reasonable. The LPA will want the proposal to maintain the agricultural and rural character of the existing structure. The LPA will not want to see the domestication of the countryside. Therefore the use of materials needs to be deemed appropriate. Making large openings for additional glazing is likely to receive negative feedback from the LPA, potentially even refusal.

Furthermore, when proposing outdoor amenity space (gardens) for the conversion, keep within the existing curtilage of the agricultural building. Proposing new garden space which stretches into nearby agricultural land will also likely receive negative feedback from the LPA.

Highways and Transport Impacts

Depending on the number of new dwellings proposed on the agricultural unit (maximum 5), the LPA will consider the highways impacts. This will include, for instance, is there sufficient parking and turning space on site for cars? Different local authorities have different parking standards. Depending on the size of the dwelling the recommendation maybe between 2-3 cars. With regards to turning space, for highways safety you want to be able to state that cars will be able to leave the site in a forward gear.

Depending on the existing access you may be required to provide details on visibility splays. Essentially this is where the sides of the site entrance are lowered and curved to provide, you guessed it, visibility. How much modification of the entrance will be required will depend on the speed of the road. Furthermore, such works may require removal of kerbs. You will also likely require some form of permission from the highways agency (right to dig) to carry out the required works.

Noise and other Amenity Impacts

The LPA will consider the potential noise impacts on the future residents of the dwellings. For instance, are the proposed dwellings very close to a major road? When it comes to agricultural to residential conversions, remaining agricultural activities will be considered. For instance, if farming will continue close to the proposed dwellings what impact will that have? Will there be noise at unsocial hours or will there be a significant smell from keeping livestock nearby?

Risk of Land Contamination

The LPA will also consider if land contamination is a potential issue. They may require additional reports to investigate such risks if deemed likely. They may also require suitable mitigation measures to be taken to address land contamination.

Flooding Risk on the Site

The LPA will look into the flooding risk on the site, whether the agricultural unit is located in a Flood Zone 2 or 3 as determined by the Environment Agency. If located in a Flood Zone 2 or 3 the LPA will expect a Flood Risk Assessment to be submitted with the prior approval notification. You can easily check what flood zone the agricultural unit is located in via the Governments Flood Map.

Is the Development Impractical or Undesirable?

Under a normal full planning application for a change of use from agricultural to residential, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is a material consideration. The NPPF is heavily focused on encouraging sustainable development. Under a full planning application, sustainable development would have good access to local services and public transportation. A prior approval application under Class Q PD rights does not have to pass the same tests. For the obvious reason, most conversions will be in isolated countryside. Therefore if the tests of sustainability in the NPPF were applied, very few prior approval applications would be approved. However, the LPA can consider if the proposals are impractical or undesirable.

Agricultural to Residential Use Class Q PD Rights
When Class Q PD rules were first introduced to the 2015 GDPO many applications were refused under impractical and undesirable impacts – Image: homebuilding.co.uk

You may be thinking, well what does that mean? Well, Planning Policy Guidance (PPG) does provide some instructions on this. Firstly, it states the LPA should start from a position that the Class Q rights mean the change of use is appropriate. But the LPA can consider if the dwellings would be impractical ( “not be sensible or realistic”) or undesirable (“harmful or objectionable”). So the factors stated above which the LPA will consider (Traffic, Noise etc) could be impractical or undesirable.

This is where the role of your agent or planning consultant comes in. To work with the case officer to address any concerns to secure approval. For instance, as mentioned above there may be agricultural use surrounding the site which may continue. Restrictions on other agricultural buildings may be required for purely storage use. This would avoid potential amenity impacts with keeping livestock/poultry in those buildings for instance.

Conclusions on Agricultural to Residential Conversions under Class Q PD Rights

As I’m sure you can appreciate from the above information, Class Q PD rights are one of the more complicated aspects of the GDPO. However, with the current rules allowing for up to 5 dwellings, the rules can be a real benefit to farmers where the viability of their buildings for continued agricultural use is questionable. There is a debate whether its better to go for prior approval under Class Q PD apposed to a full planning application. Farmers Weekly published an article on this discussion.

While securing prior approval can be challenging, there is an important distinction between Class Q rights and full planning permission. Under full planning permission, the NPPF and sustainability is a material consideration. Therefore as previously referenced in this post, isolated dwellings in the countryside rarely secure approval. Remember, before submitting an application it’s often a good idea to a planning search or even request pre-application advice. If you need assistance to prepare your prior approval notification application please get in touch. 🙂