Q Class Conversions for Agricultural Buildings – Permitted or Not Permitted Development ? Some of the Pitfalls

From time to time, we have clients come to us because they have had bad advice on converting their rural buildings into houses through permitted development rights.

These are known as Class Q Conversions and care has to be taken to ensure that potential candidate buildings/proposals will actually satisfy the ‘Prior Approval’ and related requirements.

We are always thorough in our assessments, noting not just the criteria in the permitted development regulations but some of the other constraints/limitations that stem from recent legal judgements and appeal decisions.

Over and above basic checklist points, two key issues are:

  • what level of facilitating/conversion works can be genuinely said to fall within the terms of the permitted development rights so that a conversion is a conversion and not effectively a rebuild, and
  • what factors not specifically mentioned in the set of Prior Approval rules can nonetheless scupper your chances?

On the first issue, we often refer clients to the rather ‘strict’ interpretation laid down in the legal ruling Hibbitt v. SSCLG [2016] EWHC 2853 (Admin). Here, Mr Justice Green concluded that it is over-optimistic to expect that a building comprising a light steel frame supporting a corrugated iron roof, largely open to the elements on three sides (except for limited cladding up to a few feet from the ground in some cases) is capable of being converted to residential use without building operations that would be so extensive as to go well beyond the scope of the operations permitted by Class Q, and would amount either to substantial rebuilding of the pre-existing structure or, in effect, the creation of a new building.
Turning to the second. It was a blow to an Applicant in Shropshire, earlier this year when Inspector Joanne Jones told them that, although ecology isn’t specifically mentioned in the permitted development order, it nevertheless is still a potential factor in this type of case. Here, the likely presence of bats led her to comment thus:

‘From what I saw on my site visit the appeal premises would offer a suitable habitat for bats and this position is supported by the comments made by the Council’s Ecologist, whose professional opinion I afford significant weight.

 In the light of the strict protection afforded to bats, and that survey information is missing, I am not satisfied that there would not be a material adverse effect on the protected species. As such, I conclude that the proposed works would fail to satisfy the requirements of paragraph Q.2(e). Accordingly, it would not be permitted development as set out under Class Q of the GPDO.’

Finally, remember that Government has promised further amendments to Class Q. We are still waiting. Watch this blog for future developments.