Class Q – barns and agricultural buildings to residential
New homes in the countryside? Class Q might be an option for you. 865 m² of space? Five new homes? Read on….
Note that from September 1st 2020 various changes are made to the Use Classes Order. Agricultural buildings remain as sui generis so Class Q is unaffected. Until 31st July 2021 the GPDO will continue to operate using the old classifications as if nothing has changed.
This permitted development, which requires prior approval from the local authority, has recently been enhanced in 2018. Previously you could create 3 dwellings, whereas now that limit has been increased to 5.
There are a few limitations as one would expect. Probably one of the most important is that you can’t create 5 dwellings in one barn and then 5 in the barn next door. This would only be acceptable if the barns were on different agricultural holdings. Simply dividing the land into separate titles is not going to work either.
The prior approval covers not only the conversion, but the walls, windows, roofs, materials, drainage, services etc. In other words the work required to convert the building into one or more dwellinghouse (C3). You can also partially demolish if required.
The existing building must, in structural terms, already be “capable of functioning as a dwelling”. This means is that the building as it stands must be capable of conversion. If it requires such substantial building operations then what is proposed amounts to the construction of a new building. If that is the case then the conversion would fall outside the scope of Class Q. This will inevitably be a question of fact and degree in each case.
The barn or agricultural building must have been in a use solely for agricultural uses on or before 20th March 2013. The use may have ceased before March 2013, but it can’t have had any other material change of use since it stopped having an agricultural use. You can’t build a barn now and then convert it. You must wait ten years for any site that is newer than March 2013. By then I suspect Class Q might have gone – but who knows……
As from 1st August 2020 you must supply floor plans as part of the application and it will require the the provision of adequate natural light in all habitable rooms of the properties created under Class Q. The GPDO defines a habitable room as any rooms used or intended to be used for sleeping or living which are not solely used for cooking purposes, but does not include bath or toilet facilities, service rooms, corridors, laundry rooms, hallways or utility rooms. Note that from 6th April 2021 you will need to adhere to minimum space standards – this is for any prior approvals that are submitted after this date.
So what can you convert to?
You can have up to five new properties thanks to Class Q. You can have ‘Smaller DwellingHouses’ or ‘Larger Dwellinghouses’ or a combination.
Smaller Dwellinghouses are up to 100 m² and Larger ones are between 100 m² and 465 m².
You can have up to 3 larger properties as long as the area converted does not exceed 465 m².
You can have up to 5 smaller properties of up to 100 m² each.
You can combine the two as long as you do not exceed 5 units in total.
So you could have 5 units of 100 m² and convert 500 m²
Or you could have 3 larger ones (say 120 m², 135 m² and 210 m²) of any combination as long as you do not exceed 465 m² and then have 2 properties of 100 m² each.
The maximum possible combination is 865 m². One unit of 465 m² and four units of 100 m².
Not bad eh? Somewhat higher than pre 2018 at 450 m². What is more should you have a barn that you partially converted to 3 dwellings you could now add a further 2 as long the remainder still qualified under Class Q!
The floorspace that you convert or develop includes any mezzanine levels and not just the ground floor.
One barn or more than one barn?
You can convert one agricultural unit. The limits above relate to the cumulative number of dwellings created by conversion and to the cumulative total of the floorspace thereby created.
These limits refer to the “established agricultural unit” within which the agricultural buildings are located. Subject to these limits, conversions can be carried out to several different buildings on the same agricultural unit, assuming all other criteria are met. More than one dwelling can be created within each building, subject to the cumulative limits for Class Q development within the agricultural unit not being exceeded in total.
What is an agricultural unit?
You are limited to 5 dwellings per agricultural unit. So what is an agricultural unit? I will try and explain below.
“Agricultural unit” is not defined in Article 2(1) of the GPDO, but two definitions are found in the Second Schedule.
Paragraph X of Part 3 defines an “established agricultural unit” as “agricultural land occupied as a unit for the purposes of agriculture (and which was in use for that purpose on or before the relevant qualifying date under Classes Q, R and S respectively).
In Part 6, “agricultural unit” is defined in paragraph D.1 as “ agricultural land which is occupied as a unit for the purposes of agriculture, including —
(a) any dwelling or other building on that land occupied for the purpose of farming the land by the person who occupies the unit, or
(b) any dwelling on that land occupied by a farmworker
An agricultural unit may not necessarily be the same as a single planning unit. This is particularly likely to be the case where a large agricultural enterprise is spread over a number of separate parcels of land, possibly over several whole farms. These may potentially form one agricultural unit, but will constitute several separate planning units, especially where parts of the land comprising the agricultural unit are not contiguous.
As expected apart from the important date of 20th March 2013, there are a few locations where you can’t enjoy Class Q. They are Listed buildings (or its curtilage), conservation areas, area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), National Parks, the Broads and World Heritage Sites. You also need to avoid sites of special scientific interest (SSSI), safety hazard areas or a military explosive storage area. That probably rules out anything the army uses! Oh and finally forget a site that contains a scheduled monument.
There are a few criteria that the local planning authority will consider the prior approval against. They are highway impacts of the development (not how hard it is to drive the local roads), noise impacts of the development, contamination risks, flood risk, the design or external appearance of the building. The final one is the location or siting of the building and whether it makes it impractical or undesirable for the building to change from agricultural use to a C3 unit(s). The guidance makes it clear that the ‘location test’ should only be used very specifically, to prevent, for example, new dwellings in situations without access or close to potentially harmful activities. So a barn where a 4X4 is required might fail this or one that is halfway up a mountain.
The other important restriction is that you cannot go beyond the existing footprint of the barn nor raise the roof under Class Q – any insulation works for example must be done internally and these would not be considered development as per the definition of development by section 55(2)(a) of the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act. Any further additions externally would require a full planning application.
If you are confident that you barn fits all the above criteria for Class Q, you (or your planning consultant) would submit a prior approval application to convert the barn and wait the 56 days for the decision. Should it get declined by a local authority that wishes to control dwellings in the countryside then appeal!!!
You have two options to apply under Class Q
- (a) a change of use of a building and any land within its curtilage from a use as an agricultural building to a use falling within Class C3 (dwellinghouses) of the Schedule to the Use Classes Order
- (b) development referred to in paragraph (a) together with building operations reasonably necessary to convert the building referred to in paragraph (a) to a use falling within Class C3 (dwellinghouses) of that Schedule.
Normally, unless you are just converting internally, then the application should be made under (b).
Should you be looking for an office, shop or hotel in a barn then look at Class R. or you might look at both Q and R if you have more space than is allowed under Class Q.
Check out other permitted development options on our changes of use page.
The Government has issued further guidance on the conversion of agricultural buildings. Please refer to the Government website for further details. Click here.
Q. Development consisting of—
(a) a change of use of a building and any land within its curtilage from a use as an agricultural building to a use falling within Class C3 (dwellinghouses) of the Schedule to the Use Classes Order; or
(b) development referred to in paragraph (a) together with building operations reasonably necessary to convert the building referred to in paragraph (a) to a use falling within Class C3 (dwellinghouses) of that Schedule.
Development not permitted
Q.1 Development is not permitted by Class Q if—
(a) the site was not used solely for an agricultural use as part of an established agricultural unit—
(i) on 20th March 2013, or
(ii) in the case of a building which was in use before that date but was not in use on that date, when it was last in use, or
(iii) in the case of a site which was brought into use after 20th March 2013, for a period of at least 10 years before the date development under Class Q begins;
(b) in the case of—
(i) a larger dwellinghouse, within an established agricultural unit—
(aa) the cumulative number of separate larger dwellinghouses developed under Class Q exceeds 3; or
(bb) the cumulative floor space of the existing building or buildings changing use to a larger dwellinghouse or dwellinghouses under Class Q exceeds 465 square metres;
(ba) the floor space of any dwellinghouse developed under Class Q having a use falling within Class C3 (dwellinghouses) of the Schedule to the Use Classes Order exceeds 465 square metres;
(c) in the case of—
(i) a smaller dwellinghouse, within an established agricultural unit—
(aa) the cumulative number of separate smaller dwellinghouses developed under Class Q exceeds 5; or
(bb) the floor space of any one separate smaller dwellinghouse having a use falling within Class C3 (dwellinghouses) of the Schedule to the Use Classes Order exceeds 100 square metres;
(d) the development under Class Q (together with any previous development under Class Q) within an established agricultural unit would result in either or both of the following—
(i) a larger dwellinghouse or larger dwellinghouses having more than 465 square metres of floor space having a use falling within Class C3 (dwellinghouses) of the Schedule to the Use Classes Order;
(ii) the cumulative number of separate dwellinghouses having a use falling within Class C3 (dwellinghouses) of the Schedule to the Use Classes Order exceeding 5;
(e) the site is occupied under an agricultural tenancy, unless the express consent of both the landlord and the tenant has been obtained;
(f) less than 1 year before the date development begins—
(i) an agricultural tenancy over the site has been terminated, and
(ii) the termination was for the purpose of carrying out development under Class Q,
unless both the landlord and the tenant have agreed in writing that the site is no longer required for agricultural use;
(g) development under Class A(a) or Class B(a) of Part 6 of this Schedule (agricultural buildings and operations) has been carried out on the established agricultural unit—
(i) since 20th March 2013; or
(ii) where development under Class Q begins after 20th March 2023, during the period which is 10 years before the date development under Class Q begins
(h) the development would result in the external dimensions of the building extending beyond the external dimensions of the existing building at any given point;
(i) the development under Class Q(b) would consist of building operations other than—
(i) the installation or replacement of—
(aa) windows, doors, roofs, or exterior walls, or
(bb) water, drainage, electricity, gas or other services,
to the extent reasonably necessary for the building to function as a dwellinghouse; and
(ii) partial demolition to the extent reasonably necessary to carry out building operations allowed by paragraph Q.1(i)(i);
(j) the site is on article 2(3) land;
(k) the site is, or forms part of—
(i) a site of special scientific interest;
(ii) a safety hazard area;
(iii) a military explosives storage area;
(l) the site is, or contains, a scheduled monument; or
(m) the building is a listed building.
Q.2— (1) Where the development proposed is development under Class Q(a) together with development under Class Q(b), development is permitted subject to the condition that before beginning the development, the developer must apply to the local planning authority for a determination as to whether the prior approval of the authority will be required as to—
(a) transport and highways impacts of the development,
(b) noise impacts of the development,
(c) contamination risks on the site,
(d) flooding risks on the site,
(e) whether the location or siting of the building makes it otherwise impractical or undesirable for the building to change from agricultural use to a use falling within Class C3 (dwellinghouses) of the Schedule to the Use Classes Order,
(f) the design or external appearance of the building, and
(g) the provision of adequate natural light in all habitable rooms of the dwellinghouses,
and the provisions of paragraph W (prior approval) of this Part apply in relation to that application.
(2) Where the development proposed is development under Class Q(a) only, development is permitted subject to the condition that before beginning the development, the developer must apply to the local planning authority for a determination as to whether the prior approval of the authority will be required as to the items referred to in sub-paragraphs (1)(a) to (e) and (g), and the provisions of paragraph W (prior approval) of this Part apply in relation to that application
(3) Development under Class Q is permitted subject to the condition that development under Class Q(a), and under Class Q(b), if any, must be completed within a period of 3 years starting with the prior approval date.
Interpretation of Class Q
Q.3. For the purposes of Class Q—
“larger dwellinghouse” means a dwellinghouse developed under Class Q which has a floor space of more than 100 square metres and no more than 465 square metres having a use falling within Class C3 (dwellinghouses) of the Schedule to the Use Classes Order;
“smaller dwellinghouse” means a dwellinghouse developed under Class Q which has a floor space of no more than 100 square metres having a use falling within Class C3 (dwellinghouses) of the Schedule to the Use Classes Order.
Page updated: 13th November 2020
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