In 2014 the Government introduced new rules under the GPDO (under Class Q) which for the first time allowed as “permitted development” the residential use of existing farm buildings of any age to residential use subject to a number of qualifying criteria.

On the face of it this seemed to be a major change for rural planning policy which since 1948 had enforced a presumption against residential development of the countryside in all but a few exceptional cases such as conversion of traditional barns worthy of preservation and agricultural/forestry workers dwellings. Indeed the professional planning officers employed by most local planning authorities have seen this as a retrograde step since they have had a level of their control of development removed, as they see it. Since, under Class Q, they have only a limited veto with projects that have an adverse impact on highways, contamination, noise and flooding, they have in many cases used these limited powers enthusiastically to frustrate would-be land-owner developers who own buildings (which to the layman would seem ideally suitable for conversion under the new rules). It is fair to say that in the first three to four years of this new rural planning regime some officers have been reluctant to adopt the spirit of the GPDO and have used the small print of the legislation (e.g. “conversions cannot be considered impractical or undesirable”) and have been refusing 75-90% of all prior notification applications submitted. It has taken a long time for the checks and balance system in the form of the planning inspectorate appeal process to correct wholesale misinterpretation by some LPAs although planning inspectors have also shown themselves reluctant to go against the run of decisions where the majority have been for refusal.

Particularly in the West Country there has been much inconsistency between Local Planning Authorities over their interpretation of the rules, and it has therefore been somewhat of a postcode lottery until now. At last, however, some consistency is starting to emerge across the region although it is still more difficult to obtain approvals in Cornwall, South Hams and East Devon than in Mid Devon, and West Devon.

The motivation of the Government in relaxing the rules has coincided with the drive for housing supply throughout the country and therefore the assumption is that this has been a political decision to provide more housing and control house prices. Whilst it is hard to believe that this Government has been motivated to improve the farmer’s lot, as a by product the changes provide welcome opportunities to hard pressed farmers with assets that will otherwise earn them little income.

If you are unlucky enough to be within one of the more difficult local authorities, until 2018 there has been little point in trying to battle with reluctant planners. It is fair to say, however that recently most of LPAs have adopted guidelines which recognise the spirit of the new legislation and are prepared to compromise with the reasonable objectives of most farmer/landowners.

If you have modern or traditional farm buildings, whether redundant or not, here is a simplified checklist of the eligibility criteria for conversion. We are happy to advise, and if necessary visit to set the process in motion.

The General Permitted Development Order has been amended to allow buildings under Class Q to be converted up to five residential units (three of which are classified “large” and cumulatively you must not exceed 465 sq m of floor area: a further two “small” dwellings each with a floor area not exceeding 100 sq m are now allowed - total resulting floor area of 665 sq m) per holding under Permitted Development. There is a Prior Approval procedure requiring applicants to notify the Local Planning Authority with 56 days notice to allow them time to assess eligibility of buildings.

The LPA will only allow permitted development if the following criteria are met:

• The building must have been solely in agricultural use on 20th March 2013 or if vacant the last use must have been so – this has been taken by appeal inspectors to mean that any significant degree of domestic, commercial or equestrian use would disqualify the building from Permitted Development.

• The building must not be listed or be in the curtilage of a listed building;

• The building must not be within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or National Park

• The building must not be in a safety hazard area
• The proposal must be accompanied by an Impact Statement to show there is nothing adverse in terms of noise, contamination, flood or highways impact;

• The proposal must not extend the structure of the building beyond its existing dimensions;

• The proposal must not introduce any new structural elements to the building in other words the existing walls and possibly the existing roof trusses must be strong enough to support the fabric of the building and it is questionable about whether the introduction of a first floor would be allowed;

• The curtilage of the new dwelling must be no larger than the footprint of the existing building. This however would not prevent additional land being occupied with the dwelling provided this was not garden land;

• The proposal must not be considered impractical or undesirable by the local planning authority.

Since April 2018 Class Q permitted development has been expanded to include up to 5 dwellings / holdings totalling 665m2 floor area converted, of which the 3 largest of these must not exceed a total of 465m2 floor area.

You will be aware that interpretation of these criteria differs between different Council Planning Authorities and East Devon District Council has been particularly strict in their application of the rules as they see them.

LPAs are supposed to be guided by the MHCLG Guidelines (and by Case Law) and recently new guidance has been issued with regard to the degree of structural work that can be included in the building operations proposed. The new guidelines do make clear however, that new internal structural work such as the insertion of mezzanine or upper floors as well as any internal walls will be permitted as part of a PD conversion. It has also been made clear by most LPAs that where the primary structural elements of a building have deteriorated to a point where they can no longer take the loading likely to be required in a conversion, repairs can be carried out before the PN application is submitted. The distinction between repairs and new work must be determined on a case by case basis.

If you have a Planning issue, we would be happy to visit and see the proposals. We are able to undertake a full drawing and design service, which is competitively price when compared to the average architect fee. We are also involved with the sale and purchase of building plots, barns for conversion and other development opportunities and have contacts with a number of developers throughout the south west.