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Can I convert a barn without planning permission under Class Q rules?


There is an old barn for sale just outside my village, which would make a great home for me and my family. 

I have heard you can use permitted development rights to convert barns into houses without needing planning permission, is that right? JS

The Government has introduced a series of permitted development rights (PDR) to allow the conversion of buildings into dwellings without applying for planning permission

MailOnline Property expert Myra Butterworth replies: Rural areas became sought-after locations for property hunters as a result of the pandemic, with soaring prices to match.

You may have spotted an idyllic farm setting, but without a finished family home – and just a simple barn instead.

It may be possible to convert the building into a habitable property, but there may be a few bumps along the road. We speak to a planning expert for more information.

Martin Gaine, a chartered town planner, replies: The planning system is very much against the creation of new homes in the countryside, and it can be very difficult – although not impossible – to get planning permission to convert a barn into a dwelling.

However, there is a shortcut. Frustrated that the planners aren’t delivering enough new homes, the Government has introduced a series of permitted development rights (PDR) to allow the conversion of buildings into dwellings without applying for planning permission. 

One of these, Class Q, allows the conversion of agricultural buildings.

There is a catch, though. Class Q is bound by a series of complicated rules and limitations, and not all barns are eligible. Also, though you don’t need to apply for planning permission, you do need to apply for ‘prior approval’, seeking the council’s confirmation that you meet the Class Q requirements.

What is Class Q?

Class Q allows the conversion of up to five agricultural buildings on a farm into new homes.

Of these five, up to three can be ‘larger’ homes of more than 100 square metres in floor area.

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It also permits reasonable building works to make the buildings liveable, although you can’t extend or enlarge them.

The barn must have been in existence in March 2013, while barns built since that date are only eligible for conversion after a period of ten years has passed.

Listed buildings cannot be converted under Class Q and the building cannot be a scheduled monument, within a National Park, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a Conservation Area, the Broads or a World Heritage Site. It also cannot be in a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), a safety hazard area or a military explosives storage area.

What are the pitfalls?

Applications are often refused because the ‘barn’ to be converted was not genuinely being used for agricultural purposes on an ‘agricultural unit’, ie a working farm.

The farm need not be profitable, necessarily, but it can’t be run as a hobby or in some kind mixed use with the keeping of horses, for example (equestrian activities do not count as agriculture).

Another bone of contention is the condition of the barn itself. Although you can carry out building works under Class Q, the rules say that the barn must already be ‘capable of functioning as a dwelling’.

Your building needs to be structurally sound. You can’t convert buildings that are falling down and really need to be rebuilt.

It is common to submit a structural survey with the prior approval application to show that the building can be converted without rebuilding.

Councils dislike PDR because it circumvents their policies restricting new housing development in the countryside - and are quick to refuse permission if it can be justified

 Councils dislike PDR because it circumvents their policies restricting new housing development in the countryside – and are quick to refuse permission if it can be justified

Applying for prior approval

You must apply to the council for prior approval before you start work. The council assesses whether you meet the rules, and whether there are any negative impacts in respect of flooding, contaminated land, noise and highway safety, and whether any proposed building works are well designed.

Your new home must meet the national minimum sizes for dwellings and all rooms must enjoy good natural light.

Councils dislike this permitted development right – because it circumvents their policies restricting new housing development in the countryside – and are quick to refuse permission if they feel it can be justified.

Many Class Q applications are refused and permission is obtained only after an appeal. It is rarely an easy ride.

Nevertheless, Class Q is a great opportunity if you are an in area where the council would not usually give you planning permission for a barn conversion and your proposal meets the Class Q requirements.

This is only a brief outline of the rules and it is important to seek professional advice on your own situation before embarking on a conversion project.

• Martin Gaine is a chartered town planner and author of ‘How to Get Planning Permission – An Insider’s Secrets’ 

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