In focus: Class Q permitted development rights

An overview of Class Q permitted development rights in England, key considerations when embarking on a project and how members can benefit from the CLA’s expert advice

If you are contemplating creating a new home in the countryside, then you may want to consider permitted development rights (PDR), known as Class Q. If you own agricultural buildings, then the Class Q rights may make it possible to convert them into a home or several homes without the need for full planning consent.

These rights were introduced in England in 2014 to boost new housing in rural areas. The regulations permit the change of use and conversion of an agricultural building to a home via a process known as “prior approval”. This less onerous process negates the need to submit a full planning application as long as the building meets all the qualifying criteria, conditions and limitations associated with the Class Q regulations.

Using the Class Q route can be seen as a more secure and less onerous route to obtain consent for a new home(s) in the countryside. However, to control the use of Class Q, the regulations are necessarily restrictive, and rights do not apply to listed buildings, nor do they apply or to agricultural buildings located on article 2(3) land, which includes National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), conservation areas and World Heritage Sites.

What is permitted development?

Permitted development rights are a national grant of deemed planning permission and are found in the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 (as amended) (GPDO 2015). The GPDO 2015 allows certain building works and changes of use to carried out without having to make a full planning permission.

The amount of permitted development which may be allowable in any particular case may depend on a number of conditions and limitations to control impact and protect local amenity, including obtaining the planning authority’s prior approval in some instances.

In order to avoid enforcement action by the planning authority, any development that takes place under permitted development rules must be in full compliance with all relevant qualifying criteria, conditions and limitations.

GPDO 2015 Part 3 Class Q

The regulations that underpin Class Q can be found in the GPDO 2015 under Schedule 2, Part 3 Changes of use. The government has amended Class Q rights several times since its introduction, so it is very important to ensure you consider the regulations and all the amendments if you are to avoid a refusal of a prior approval application.

The Class Q regulations allow for the change of use and conversion of agricultural building(s) into one or up to five homes, on the holding, which are subject to maximum size limits. The regulations, and supporting government guidance, set out what limited building works can be undertaken to affect the conversion.

The Class Q regulations set out a host of qualifying criteria, conditions, limitations and exclusions. For example, it is important to be able to demonstrate that the building was in use for the purposes of agriculture on an established agricultural holding on 20 March 2013. Other limitations include:

  • The external dimensions of the new home(s) cannot extend beyond the footprint of the existing agricultural building that is being converted.
  • The building to be converted should have four walls and roof before conversion so that it can benefit from the building operations provided for in the regulations and be structurally sound so that it can support the weight that comes with conversion.
  • The curtilage of the converted dwelling is very restricted and must not be any more extensive than the curtilage definition set out in the Class Q regulations.
  • The planning authority’s prior approval must be obtained before any development commences.

There are many other conditions and limitations to be complied with, so it is essential to ensure your plans meet these before proceeding.

The prior approval process

As previously mentioned, whereas the Class Q rights do not require a full planning application, the rights do require the planning authority’s prior approval before any part of the development starts. And this is where things can get difficult. Nationally, around 60% of Class Q applications are refused, often due to different interpretations of the rules between planning authority and applicant.

The planning authority’s decision will focus on whether the proposed development is compliant with all the Class Q criteria, conditions and limitations. The conditions include the matters on which prior approval is required. These are: transport and highways impact of the development, noise impacts of the development, flood risks on the site, whether the location or siting of the buildings makes it otherwise impractical or undesirable, the design and external appearance of the building and lastly, the provision of adequate natural light to all habitable rooms.

Using Class Q permitted development

As planning authorities can interpret Class Q PDRs slightly differently, it is important to seek professional advice. Our planning experts are on hand to help members with and queries or advice needed. You may wish to instruct a professional adviser who has demonstrable and successful experience of Class Q permitted development.

If you deem it absolutely necessary you may also speak to your planning authority. However, they are not duty bound to provide advice on interpretation of the Class Q rights. It is down to the applicant and/or their professional adviser to interpret the regulations.

A well thought out, robust and attractive conversion that fulfils the criteria of Class Q permitted development will have a good chance of success and is still easier, cheaper, and quicker than submitting a full planning application.

If you’re a CLA member and you have any further questions about permitted development, get in touch with your regional office for further advice.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between planning permission and permitted development?

Planning permission is granted by the planning authority for the area, generally a unitary, district or borough council, to build a new development, be that commercial or residential. The grant of planning permission is underpinned by section 70 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

However, there are some exceptions where buildings can be built, altered, developed or their use changed without the need for full planning permission. This is permitted development.

Some forms of permitted development require prior approval from the planning authority.

The prior approval process is an administrative procedure for granting the planning authority’s prior approval for some forms of permitted development. A prior approval decision does not carry any statutory weight.

How do I find out if I have permitted development rights?

There are several ways to find out if your land (including buildings) benefits from permitted development rights.

(i) check the planning history of the site/holding to see if any past planning permissions include a planning condition that removes certain permitted development rules

(ii) check the deeds of the property and/or the planning history to see if an article 4 Direction has been placed over the holding or over an entire area that removes permitted

development rights, and if it does which rights have been removed,

(iii) if you are really unsure, you may wish to instruct a professional adviser to undertake the research for you

The planning history of a holding can be researched at the planning authority who maintain information on microfiche and online.

How long does permitted development take?

Any Part and/or Class of the GPDO 2015 which includes the need for the planning authority’s prior approval sets out the number of days within which the planning authority must make a decision and communicate that decision to the applicant. For example, for agricultural developments the decision-making period is 28 days, but for Class Q decisions it is 56 days.

If the development you’re planning falls under permitted development and does not require prior approval, then, as long as the proposed development is fully compliant with the relevant rights, you can undertake the development without informing the planning authority. However, in such circumstances it is important to keep documentary evidence of your project so that you are able to demonstrate that it complied with the relevant legal requirements and when it was carried out, in case the planning authority investigates at a later date.

What happens if I am unsure whether the land (including building) benefits from certain permitted development rights?

If you want to be certain that the existing use of land or a building is lawful for planning purpose or that your proposed development does not require planning permission, you can apply for a Lawful Development Certificate (LDC).

Whilst it is not compulsory to have an LDC, there may be times when a LDC can be useful to confirm that a use, operation or activity named in it is lawful for planning purposes. In this instance it may be preferable to apply for a Lawful Development Certificate (LDC). The LDC can either confirm that a development was lawful at the time of construction and protects the building owner in the event that planning policies change. The LDC application is made to the planning authority and takes around eight weeks to grant.

How long does permitted development approval last?

Strictly speaking, PDRs remain in place until they are withdrawn by the planning authority or the government makes a policy decision to change or remove certain permitted development rights.

If prior approval is applied for and granted, a three- or five-year period is generally allowed to complete the development. If in doubt, check with CLA advisers or your local planning authority or a professional adviser, either a chartered town planner or a charter surveyor.

What other permitted developments are available in respect of agricultural buildings?

PDRs make significant provision agricultural buildings and land and are therefore useful instruments for farmers looking to diversify or change the use of existing buildings.

Part 6 Classes A and B enable the construction of, or extensions or alterations to, a building or structure. Excavations and engineering works are also permitted by Part 6 Class A PDRs, as long as they are necessary for the purposes of agriculture within the building.

Examples include laying farm tracks or building machinery or grain stores within the criteria laid out in the GPDO 2015. Part 6 Class A PDRs do not apply where residential properties are involved or where the development is not for agricultural use. To qualify for Part 6 Class A PDRs, a farm must cover five hectares or more, whereas Part 6 Class B rights are applicable to agricultural holdings between 0.4 and 5 hectares in area.

GPDO 2015 Part 3 Changes of use provides for a variety of different changes of use of buildings including agricultural buildings. For example:

  • Class R permits the change of use of an agricultural building to a range of flexible commercial uses such as shop, café, offices, storage and distribution etc.
  • Class O permits the change of use of offices to house
  • Class S permits the change of use of an agricultural building to a state-funded school

All the PDRs for change of use have different qualifying criteria including date, conditions, limitations, and exclusions. So, if you’re considering changing the use of an outbuilding, it is crucial to check the relevant General Permitted Development Order to ensure your plans meet the requirements.