Class Q Permitted Development - Converting Barns into Residential Uses

Class Q Permitted Development Rights offer exciting opportunities for barn conversions in rural areas.

2/12/20246 min read

the sun shines brightly on a brick building
the sun shines brightly on a brick building


Class Q is a powerful Permitted Development Right for property developers in rural areas. This policy was introduced in 2014 by the UK government as a way to repurpose unused barns and other agricultural buildings to provide much-needed housing in rural areas.

In this article we explain what conditions and limitations apply to Class Q conversions and how to obtain that much needed consent from the Council. We will also touch upon some useful strategies to make the best use of this Permitted Development Right.

Understanding Class Q Permitted Development

Class Q falls under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015. It allows for the conversion of agricultural buildings, such as barns, into residential dwellings. This means that farmers and landowners can convert their unused barns into homes without having to go through the traditional planning permission process. As agricultural barns tend to be in more remote locations, this is particularly helpful, as any concerns over the distance to shops or schools cannot be taken into account.

However, it's important to note that there are certain criteria that need to be met in order to qualify for Class Q permitted development. These are explored in further detail below:

Qualifying Buildings

In order to qualify the building must have been in agricultural use on or before 20th March 2013. If the building was brought into agricultural use after that date, then it would need to have been used for agricultural purposes for a period of 10 years from the date of the Class Q application.

To comply, buildings need to be part of an established agricultural unit. Uses such as horse stables, recreational uses, or where the keeping and/or breeding of animals is only undertaken as a hobby are not considered to be agricultural, and as such Class Q does not apply. Buildings which have been constructed using agricultural permitted development rights also do not apply.

If the building(s) are located within Article 2(3) land, then Class Q cannot be used. This includes Conservation Areas, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, The Broads, National Parks and World Heritage Sites. If your building is located within one of these protected areas, you will need full planning permission, but all may not be lost as some Council's encourage the re-use of agricultural barns. Sites of Special Scientific Interest are also excluded, as are Safety Hazard Areas, Military Explosive Storage Areas and Scheduled Ancient Monuments.

Floorspace Requirements

Class Q sets a limit on the amount of floorspace that can be converted to residential uses. The final total depends on what mixture of 'smaller' and 'larger' dwellings you choose, and there are quite a few different options so bare with us on this one!

To start with, smaller dwellings are defined as being up to (and including) 100 square metres, with larger ones being more than 100 square metres, but no more than 465 square metres.

If you are using Class Q, and seeking to create 'larger' dwellings, the number of separate dwellings cannot exceed 3 and the floorspace converted cannot exceed 465 square metres. Effectively this means that you can create a maximum of 3 new dwellings at an average size of 155 square metres (big enough to be a 6-bed house according to the Government's Minimum Space Standards).

If you want to create 'smaller' dwellings, then you are limited to a total of 5 new dwellings. This gives you a maximum space of 500 square metres.

Things get a bit more complicated if you are proposing a mix of 'larger' and 'smaller' dwellings. The maximum number of units is 5 dwellings, but there are different allowances depending on your mix. But it is worth your while doing the calculations, as you can uplift the maximum floorspace from 500 square metres, all the way up to 865 square metres.

This can be done by creating one new 'larger' dwelling at the maximum allowed of 465 square metres, and four new 'smaller' dwellings of 100 metres squared each. There are many different mixes of small and larger dwellings you can choose which will get you over the 500 square metre limit, with the 865 square metres example above giving you the most developable floorspace possible.

Converted not rebuilt

One of the most often argued aspects of Class Q Permitted Development is that it requires a barn to be converted, rather than demolishing it and replacing it with a new building. In technical language, the legislation allows the installation or replacement of windows, doors, roof or walls, and works which are reasonably necessary for the building to function as a house.

If your agricultural barn is structurally sound and only requires internal alterations and the insertion of new doors and windows, then the building and works are likely to be acceptable. On the other hand, if your agricultural barn could fall down at any minute, and the scope of works to turn it into a dwelling is more inline with building a new building, a Class Q application is likely to fail.

To help your case, we would recommend enlisting the help of an engineer who can provide a structural report showing that the barn or building is suitable for conversion.

Agricultural Tenants

If the site or building is occupied under an agricultural tenancy, Class Q cannot be used, unless there is the express consent of both the landlord and the tenant. Similarly, if an agricultural tenant has been evicted from the building or agricultural unit within the past 1 year for the purposes of converting the building to residential purposes, then Class Q cannot be used.

With this in mind, if you have agricultural tenants in place and want to convert barns into residential uses, you either require their consent, or you will have to wait a year before making a Class Q application.

Class Q - Prior Approval

If you think your building(s) comply with the qualifying criteria, then you will need to apply to your Council for Prior Approval before commencing the work. As the name suggests, you need to make this application before starting any work, therefore if you start before gaining Prior Approval you cannot use Class Q Permitted Development Rights and will need full planning permission.

Under the Prior Approval regulations, a Council has 56-days to determine your application. It is important to note that the 56-days starts on the day after your application is submitted. So if your Council takes 10 days to 'validate' the application, the clock is already ticking!

There are 6 Prior Approval matters that the Council will assess, and they are as follows:

  1. Transport and Highways - Due to their small scale nature, most Class Q applications do not give rise to major transport concerns. It will be important to demonstrate that the access to the development has sufficient visibility for traffic.

  2. Noise Impacts - If the conversion is to take place on a working farm, or near other noise receptors, you may have to give some thought to potential noise pollution issues. You could be required to submit a Noise Assessment and include some mitigation measures, such as noise proof windows.

  3. Contamination Risks - In most cases, Class Q conversions do not incur contamination risks. However, if the barn was previously used to store chemicals, then a Contaminated Land Assessment may be required.

  4. Flooding - If the building is located within Flood Zone 1 and is not at risk of flooding from any other sources, then this matter is unlikely to cause any issues. If the building is at risk of flooding, you are likely to be required to submit a Flood Risk Assessment, showing that the future occupants would be safe and flood risk would not be increased elsewhere. You may also be required to submit a Sequential and Exception Test to demonstrate there are no alternative locations at a lower risk of flooding suitable for your development.

  5. Whether it is unpractical or undesirable change of use - Examples of unpractical or undesirable locations could include areas where there is no road access, or where it is unpractical to get gas, electricity and water to the building. The location of a site in relation to services and facilities is not a consideration under Class Q applications.

  6. Design or external appearance - As mentioned above, Class Q only relates to buildings that are suitable for conversion, rather than buildings which need to be totally rebuilt. As such, the changes to the external fabric of the building are likely to be fairly minimal.

Changes were made to all Change of Use Permitted Development Rights which require the provision of 'adequate natural light' in all habitable rooms. These rooms are defined as those used or intended to be used for sleeping or living, which are not used solely for cooking, but does not include bath or toilet facilities, service rooms, corridors, or hallways. Further changes also require Class Q (and all Permitted Development Right) conversions to meet the Government's Minimum Space Standards.

Residential Permitted Development Rights

One often forgotten aspect of any change of use Permitted Development Rights conversion is that the resultant barn or building does not qualify for Householder Permitted Development Rights.

How Can We Help You?

We have great experience in dealing with Class Q applications and other barn conversions. We can provide you with an initial appraisal to identify if your building is likely to achieve Class Q Prior Approval, and the documentation that is likely to be required to accompany an application.

Once we have established that your barn can be converted, we will enlist the help of specialist consultants and engineers, creating the best possible application for your proposal. Contact us today to find out how we can help you.