Permitted development rights for the conversion of agricultural buildings to residential use (under Class Q of the General Permitted Development Order) have been in the news quite a lot recently with local planning authorities seemingly intent on restricting their use and the government, on the other hand, looking to expand the application of Class Q .
A high profile court case heard in November last year in the High Court (Hibbitt v SSCLG  EWHC 2853 (Admin)) appeared to restrict the extent of building works which could be carried out under Class Q to convert an agricultural building to a residential dwelling. Meanwhile, the government have recently announced (in a White Paper) its intention to both extend Class Q by increasing the permitted floor space allowed and also to introduce a new class of permitted development for the conversion of up to five agricultural buildings to rural workers dwellings. The government are also proposing to update guidance on what constitutes building operations reasonably necessary to convert an agricultural building to residential use under Class Q – we anticipate this will go some way to reversing the restrictive interpretation adopted in the Hibbitt case.
We will be reporting on developments in all of the above issues, as a well as a number of other developments in rural planning, over the coming months, with regular articles on our website and also in our relaunched planning blog.
In the meantime, another very recent High Court case has provided further clarity and, for landowners and developers, reassurance on Class Q. The case, East Herts DC v SSDCL  EWHC 465 (Admin) concerned the extent to which “sustainability of location” was a legitimate consideration for local planning authorities when determining prior approval applications under Class Q. Essentially, the Council were seeking to severely restrict the use of Class Q where they considered that the building in question was in a location where the Council would not normally grant planning permission for a new dwelling as it is in an unsustainable location (i.e. in the open countryside). Had it succeeded, the Council would have opened the way for other councils to block Class Q rights from being used in all but very limited circumstances, for instance, where an agricultural barn is located within an existing village or other settlement boundary. Such an approach would have the effect of frustrating the whole purpose of Class Q being introduced – to increase the provision of housing through the conversion of agricultural buildings.
Sensibly, Mr Justice Dove who heard the case rejected this approach and accepted the argument that, whilst accessibility is a relevant consideration, it should not be given the same weight in determining Class Q prior-approvals as would be the case for a planning application for a dwelling in the open countryside.
The case provides clarity on this issue and should mean that councils are dissuaded from raising such sustainability matters when determining Class Q applications in the future.
Article by Richard Price, Loxley. Tel: 01453 391880