Changes to the Class Q permitted development right

Changes to the Class Q permitted development right

On 30 April 2024 The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development etc.) (England) (Amendment) Order 2024 (SI 2024 No. 579) was made and laid before parliament.  The Order makes changes to the Class Q and Class R permitted development rights and to agricultural permitted development rights and comes into force on 21 May 2024.

The changes to the Class Q right are extensive.  The title as been updated from “agricultural buildings to dwellinghouses” to “buildings on agricultural units and former agricultural buildings to dwellinghouses”, which extends the scope of the amended right.  However, the changes that have been made to the qualifying criteria for the revised Class Q right are far from straightforward. The main changes made by the Order can be summarised as follows:

– removing the requirement for a building which is part of an established agricultural unit to have been used solely for an agricultural use and allowing the change of use of former agricultural buildings that were (but are no longer) part of an established agricultural unit to dwellings.

– prohibiting the change of use of a site (i.e. a building and land within its curtilage) that (i) was not part of the established agricultural unit on 24 July 2023, or (ii) that became part of the established agricultural unit after 24 July 2023 and has not been part of the unit for at least 10 years before any development under Class Q commences. The result of these changes mean that the site – defined as above – must have been part of the agricultural unit (e.g. the relevant agricultural unit at the time of application) on 24 July 2023.  This means that a building erected after 24 July 2023 will not qualify until it has been part of the unit for at least 10 years.  This change also applies to pre-existing buildings that have been added to the established agricultural unit by purchase after 24 July 2023. Although the building may have been eligible if it had remained part of the established agricultural unit on which it was located prior to the purchase, it will still be made ineligible under the new Class Q rules until it has been part of the agricultural unit to which it has been added for at least 10 years.

– allowing the change of use to a dwellinghouse of buildings previously part of an established agricultural if (i) the site was not part of such a unit on 24 July 2023, or (ii) the site ceased to be part of the agricultural unit after 24 July 2023 and has been separate from the unit for at least 10 years before development begins under Class Q, and (iii) since leaving the agricultural unit, the site has not been used for any non-agricultural purposes. In practice, this means that a building purchased by a developer or, say, a self-builder after 24 July 2023 that ceases being part of an established agricultural unit will not qualify under the new Class Q rules until it has been disassociated with the agricultural unit for at least 10 years, subject to it also having not been put to any non-agricultural uses during that period of time.

– replacing the separate floor space limits on larger and smaller dwellinghouses with a single maximum floor space limit of 150 square metres on all dwellinghouses.

– increasing the cumulative floor space that may be developed to 1,000 square metres.

– increasing the cumulative number of separate dwellinghouses that may be developed to 10 units.

– allowing a small increase of up to 0.20 metres in the external dimensions of an existing building to accommodate permitted building operations.

– allowing a single-storey rear extension of a building as part of the change of use to a dwellinghouse, subject to it not:

– extending beyond the rear wall of the existing building by more than 4 metres;

– having an eaves height which does not exceed the height of the eaves of the existing building;

– being higher than whichever is the lower of (a) the highest part of the roof of the existing building, or (b) a height of 4 metres above the ground;

– being sited on land that, before the development under Class Q, is not covered by a hard surface by virtue of any development on or before 24 July 2023 or, where the  hard surface was provided after 24 July 2023, the hard surface has not been situated on the land for a period of at least 10 years before the date development under Class Q begins.

– allowing only buildings of a pre-development size that comply with the nationally described space standard to be converted to dwellinghouses and extended; and

– prohibiting a building without an existing suitable access to a public highway from being developed.

Some may consider that increasing the number of dwellings and the cumulative floor space that is permitted to change use under the new Class Q is a beneficial expansion of this permitted development right. Bringing buildings that were not solely in agricultural use into the scope of Class Q is also useful. However, that is where the good news ends.

Despite an indication in the consultation that the right may have been extended to protected landscapes (National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, now known as National Landscapes) that is not the case and will be a disappointment to farmers and others who had seen the opportunities it would have provided to breathe new life into old buildings and re-invigorate what are declining rural communities.

The new 10-year exclusion on buildings that were not part of the established agricultural unit on 24 July 2023 or that became part of the unit after that date will effectively freeze newly erected buildings and existing buildings that are added to units after that date from undergoing conversion under Class Q for a decade.

Similarly, existing buildings that cease being part of an established agricultural unit on or after 24 July 2023 will be ineligible for conversion under Class Q for a decade.  Further, to remain eligible when the 10-year freeze has expired, they cannot have been put to any non-agricultural use which means that they will have to remain vacant and unused. This approach appears to be contrary to the objectives outlined in last year’s consultation and to the general aim of local and national planning policy to encourage the sustainable and appropriate use of under-used assets.

The changes also raise an urgent and critical question as to whether a purchaser of a building with the benefit of a Class Q approval can continue to rely on that approval given that the building will have ceased to be part of the “host” established agricultural unit as a consequence of the purchase. This question arises because, for the subsequent development to remain lawful, ongoing compliance with the qualifying criteria that apply to Class Q is necessary, even after a prior approval has been granted.

The newly introduced 150 square metre maximum floor area will significantly limit the mix of dwelling sizes that farmers and developers can create to meet the needs and preferences of future occupiers.  In certain instances, the restriction will also limit the ability to convert whole buildings and may render some potential conversions impractical or non-viable, especially where buildings will not divide neatly into dwellings that are no larger than 150 square metres or where conversion costs are high.

There will be Class Q schemes that are acceptable under the current rules but fail to comply with the new rules. In cases where prior approval has been obtained before the new regulations come into effect on 21 May 2024, transitional provisions will protect them from the new rules.  The transitional provisions also allow those who have not yet obtained approval but wish to do so under the existing Class Q rules until 20 May 2025 to apply to do so. Until that date applicants can continue to propose up to three larger dwellings with a combined floor space of no more than 465 square meters; or up to five smaller dwellings, each encompassing no more than 100 square meters, or a combination of larger and smaller dwellings, as long as the total does not exceed five units, with no more than three classified as larger dwellings. After that date, only applications under the new Class Q right will be possible.

Although there will be some cases where the new Class Q rights will be helpful, it is likely that those cases will be limited to the conversion of buildings that have not been used solely for agriculture or where the existing Class Q floor space and/or number of dwellings thresholds have already been reached. Outside of these applications, our expectation is that the majority of our clients will wish to continue to make use of the existing Class Q rights for as long as it is possible for them to do so. We also anticipate that, unless and until the issues highlighted in our analysis above have been clarified and/or resolved, the new Class Q rights will reduce its usefulness to farmers and the wider rural economy.

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