Class Q Permitted Development was brought in as a means of allowing existing agricultural buildings to be converted to residential dwellings without requiring planning permission. This allows underused agricultural buildings to be turned into much needed accommodation, helping to reduce the nationwide housing shortage.
This sounds good but like all planning legislation, in reality it is more difficult than it first appears.
In order to avoid the risk that a completed conversion will be later deemed to be contrary to the legislation, owners often apply to the local authority for confirmation that a conversion scheme complies with Class Q, which means that, in effect, the permitted development comes back within the planning system.
The legislation and the accompanying guidance are complex and the guidance especially is subject to regular change. There are restrictions on the previous agricultural use of the building, the size of the converted building, and there are also restrictions on the building operations that can be performed to undertake the conversion. It is also useful to look at previous court cases where judgements have been made on aspects of the legislation that are unclear.
In order to justify that a scheme complies with the Class Q requirements structurally, a structural appraisal report is often required by the local authority.
A structural appraisal report will describe the structural elements of the existing building e.g. the roof, floors, walls and foundations, their current condition and any previous repairs/alterations. The report will then describe the work required for a conversion to residential use, and whether the building is in a suitable condition for conversion as opposed to needing to be rebuilt. Reports detailing this are required for any agricultural building conversion.
For a Class Q application, the report also needs to confirm whether the building work needed falls within the specific works permitted under the legislation, and this can involve assessing the strength for the existing elements to confirm they are suitable.
These reports can surmount one barrier to obtaining confirmation that the building can be converted under Class Q.
In order to prepare a structural appraisal report, a detailed inspection of the building is needed. Luckily with agricultural buildings the structure is usually exposed, so lots of removal of finishes is rarely required, but on occasions buildings are in such poor condition that safety considerations will prevent a full inspection.
All planning decisions are very much a matter of interpretation and the opinion of the officers involved meaning that it is definitely an area where success cannot be guaranteed.
However, Class Q permitted development has allowed many agricultural buildings, which would not have been given permission by other means, to be turned into homes, so in the right circumstances it is definitely an avenue worth exploring.