Saturday, 23 January 2016
When I wrote my last piece on this topic, I was aware that there are a couple of quotes from Sage v. SSETR  UKHL 22 that might potentially be cited by a local planning authority seeking to argue that internal works do form part of the development permitted by Part 3 of the Second Schedule to the GPDO, but I did not want to lengthen further an already lengthy article, and (for reasons that I will explain below), I am in any event unconvinced that Sage really is relevant to the issue in question here. Nevertheless, my previous correspondent has understandably raised this point with me, and so I have decided that I should after all deal with it in this further article.
My correspondent also commented that, unless the Prudential judgment is contradicted by a subsequent judgment, he would be very wary of concluding that it shouldn’t be given any weight. I certainly would not suggest that the Prudential judgment should be entirely ignored. In fact, readers may recall that I wrote in my previous article that “some LPAs may be tempted to cite this judgment in support of the contention that the scope for internal works, and in particular for internal structural alterations or strengthening, is limited by the conditions attached to Class Q, and some inspectors may be persuaded to accept that argument.” I hope I made it clear that someone wishing to challenge this view in relation to internal works may well have to be prepared to take it to the High Court (and they might possibly have to go on to the Court of Appeal).
Moving on, then, to Sage, my correspondent drew attention to the following paragraph in the speech of Lord Hobhouse :
“23. When an application for planning consent is made for permission for a single operation, it is made in respect of the whole of the building operation. There are two reasons for this. The first is the practical one that an application for permission partially to erect a building would, save in exceptional circumstances, fail. The second is that the concept of final permission requires a fully detailed building of a certain character, not a structure which is incomplete. This is one of the differences between an outline permission and a final permission: s.92 of the Act. As counsel for Mr Sage accepted, if a building operation is not carried out, both externally and internally, fully in accordance with the permission, the whole operation is unlawful. She contrasted that with a case where the building has been completed but is then altered or improved. This demonstrates the fallacy in Mr Sage’s case. He comes into the first category not the second.”
There are one or two other places in this House of Lords decision where reference is made to internal works, but all of these remarks were made solely in the context of a development that took the form of building operations to create a new dwelling. There was no pre-existing building, and thus no change of use was involved. What the House of Lords had before them was an enforcement case involving the 4-year rule, and the passage quoted above was in my view obiter, in so far as it might relate to a development carried out under planning permission, quite apart from the fact that it did not relate to a material change of use of an existing building.
Lord Hope (in supporting the conclusions of Lord Hobhouse) was persuaded that it made better sense of the legislation as a whole to adopt the ‘holistic’ approach which Lord Hobhouse had described. What this meant, he observed, was that regard should be had to the totality of the operations which the person originally contemplated and intended to carry out. “That will be an easy task if the developer has applied for and obtained planning permission” [my added emphasis].
Pausing there, one has to bear in mind the scope of the planning permission granted by Article 3 of the GPDO and by the various Classes in Part 3 of the Second Schedule to the Order. The permission in the case of Class O (and in certain other cases) is solely for a change of use of an existing building. In some other Classes (including Class Q) there is limited permission for building operations, but I continue to maintain that this permission (under Class Q(b)) relates only to those operations that require planning permission, and does not relate to works that are exempted from the definition of development by section 55(2)(a). The context in this case, I would stress, is very different from the context in which enforcement action is in question in relation to section 171B(1).
In his speech in Sage, Lord Hope was clearly focused on the completion of a new building that the developer intended to erect, and on what constituted substantial completion in this context. As Lord Hobhouse put it in paragraph 11, “The point raised by this appeal by the Council to your Lordships' House concerns the construction of section 171B(1) and the starting point of the four-year period — i.e. ‘the date on which the operations were substantially completed’.” The LPA was arguing for a holistic construction, in order to establish whether the building had been substantially completed and, if so, when.
It is also important to understand that Sage was concerned solely with operational development, not with a material change of use. As one of the Law Lords observed, the House was concerned with section 171B(1), not with section 171B(2). The development in question in Sage was the erection of a dwellinghouse which was in the course of construction. It was in this context that Lord Hobhouse observed, in paragraph 19, that “Exception (a) clearly contemplates and involves a completed building which is to be maintained, improved or altered” [my added emphasis].
It is clear that the passage that my correspondent quoted from paragraph 23 is, like the rest of the judgment, focused solely on the unauthorised erection of a new building and on the operations involved in creating and substantially completing that building. By contrast, one is dealing in Part 3 of the Second Schedule to the GPDO primarily with the change of use of an existing building, and also in some cases (as a subsidiary or subordinate, but nevertheless separate, development) with limited building operations that are permitted in connection with that change of use. There seems to me to be no policy reason, and no justification in terms of statutory interpretation, in this context, to ignore or override the words of section 55(2)(a) so as to bring into consideration purely internal works that are for the maintenance, improvement or other alteration of the building (including internal alterations carried out in connection with the permitted change of use under Part 3).
This does not involve disturbing the decision of the House of Lords’ decision in Sage in relation to section 171B(1). It merely emphasises the need to have regard to the context in which that judgment was handed down. We must all be careful not to quote passages from such judgments out of context – a fairly common error, all too frequently committed by counsel in arguing later cases, and even sometimes by judges.
In discussing the points raised both by Sage and by Prudential, my correspondent postulated that if someone has planning permission to erect a house with two bedrooms, then they can erect such a house and then subsequently (i.e. as a separate operation) convert the two bedrooms into three bedrooms (i.e. on the basis that the latter works don’t constitute development), but he argues that you can’t simply erect a house with three bedrooms from the outset (i.e. as a single operation). This may be arguable in relation to the erection of a new house, but not (I suggest) in relation to a change of use.
I did try to run such an argument some years ago on behalf of a neighbouring objector when an authorised change of use of a house to form several flats was carried out in almost exactly this way. Permission had been given to convert the house into several 2-bedroom flats. The developer produced the specified number of flats, but in doing so he sub-divided the bedrooms so that each of the new flats was a 4-bedroom flat. Quite clearly he was converting the property into student lets. I totally failed in my attempts to persuade the LPA to take enforcement action, and I had to admit (at least to myself) that the LPA’s attitude was entirely understandable, because subsequent conversion of each of the flats into 4-bedroom flats would have been entirely lawful, and so it could legitimately be argued by the LPA that in those circumstances it was not ‘expedient’ (in the terms of section 172) to take enforcement action.
Leaving aside the question of expediency in relation to possible enforcement action, I believe it is wrong to think in terms of a planning permission for a change of use as ‘authorising’ any internal works. The development authorised by that permission is simply the making of the material change of use. The internal works required to facilitate that change of use are merely preparatory to the change of use actually being made, which will occur (as a single event) either when the development is occupied for its new use or, at the earliest, when it is finally ready for occupation (see Impey and also Welwyn Hatfield, both quoted in my last article).
So far as the description of the development is concerned (the change of use of the house to use as several 2-bedroom flats in the example I mentioned above), the scope of the authorised change of use might be taken to have been limited in the first instance, by its description, to use as 2-bedroom (not 4-bedroom) flats, but this in itself could not have prevented the later use of any of those flats as 4-bedroom flats. (For examples of the application of this principle, see Wilson v. West Sussex CC  2 Q.B. 764, and East Suffolk CC v. SSE (1972) 70 L.G.R. 803.)
We therefore come back to the point that I made in my previous article. When considering permitted development comprising the change of use of an existing building, it is a conceptual mistake to think in terms of the ‘whole’ development as including the internal alterations required to facilitate the permitted change of use. The development comprises solely the material change of use itself, when it actually occurs. In such a case, any internal works undoubtedly come within the exemption of such works from the definition of ‘development’, by virtue of section 55(2)(a). Neither Sage nor Prudential affects the position in this regard. It follows that the building operations that are permitted by Class Q(b) (and similarly by Classes M(b) and N(b)) are simply those that are listed in that Class, and that they do not include or refer in any way to any internal works to the building.
It is for this reason that I would stoutly maintain that the government’s amended online Planning Practice Guidance of 5 March 2015, stating that it is not the intention of what was then Class MB(b) [now Class Q(b)] to permit the construction of new structural ele¬ments for the building (so that, it is only where the existing building is structurally strong enough to take the loading associated with the external works to adapt the building for residential use that certain building opera-tions would be considered to come within Class Q(b) ) cannot, as a matter of law, be taken to refer to any works that affect only the interior of the building, or which do not materially affect the external appearance of the building.
© MARTIN H GOODALL
Monday, 11 January 2016
After my article on this topic was posted on 4 January, another well-known planning blogger (who, with becoming modesty, does not wish to be named here) kindly drew my attention to R (Prudential Insurance Co Ltd) v. Sunderland City Council  EWHC 1771 (Admin). I will come back to this judgment below, but I want first to analyse carefully the nature of the development involved under Part 3 of the Second Schedule to the GPDO and the precise scope of the planning permission granted by Article 3 in conjunction with the various Classes set out in Part 3.
Article 3(1) of the GPDO grants planning permission for the classes of development described as permitted development in Schedule 2 to the Order. In Part 3 of that Schedule, this development is specified by the various Classes set out there as “Development consisting of a change of use of a building (or, in some cases, of a building and any land within its curtilage) from a use falling within [a specified Use Class or Classes] to a use falling within [another specified Use Class]”. In certain cases, planning permission is also granted for limited building operations. I will come back to that further permission below.
When considering the planning permission for change of use granted by the various Classes in Part 3, it is important to appreciate that a change of use is a single event; it is not a gradual process or a continuing state of affairs (see Cynon Valley BC v SSW (1987) 53 P. & C. R. 68). Furthermore, it should be firmly borne in mind that, except in those few Classes where some building operations are also permitted, the permission granted is solely for the specified change of use. It follows that a development comprising a material change of use only commences when the change of use itself occurs, and (for the reasons explained in my last article, and further explored below) any incidents, including the commencement of internal alterations, that are preparatory to that change of use are of no legal significance in planning terms.
In the case of a change of use to use as a single private dwellinghouse, it is a prerequisite to such a change of use that the building must, as a question of fact, be constructed or adapted for use as a dwellinghouse as normally understood, that is to say, as a building that provides for the main activities of, and ordinarily affords the facilities required for, day-to-day private domestic existence (Gravesham B.C. v SSE (1984) P. & C. R. 142). Until that point is reached, no change of use has taken place. The judgment in Impey v SSE (1984) 47 P. & C. R. 157 established that a change of use can take place before the premises are used in the ordinary and accepted sense of the word (for example, where operations have been undertaken to convert premises for residential use and they are then put on the market as being available for letting). (This was subsequently confirmed by the Supreme Court in Welwyn Hatfield BC v. SSCLG  UKSC 15.)
The effect and extent of the planning permission granted by the GPDO can readily be understood by reference to Class O in Part 3 (the residential conversion of offices which have been in use within Use Class B1(a)). The GPDO is completely silent on the subject of the works required to bring about this change of use. Clearly the permission does not extend to any building works to the exterior of the building, or which would materially affect its external appearance, but quite extensive works may be required to the interior (including in may cases the erection of new internal walls, and other structural elements, as well as the installation of bathrooms, toilets, kitchens, and a variety of other features and facilities) in order to enable the authorised change of use to take place. The reason that no provision is made for these in the GPDO is that they do not require planning permission in any event, by virtue of section 55(2)(a). None of the conditions attached to Class O refers to these internal works in any way.
I want to look next at the planning permission granted by Classes M(a)and M(b). Class M(a) grants permission for the residential conversion of a building currently used as a shop (A1) or for the provision of financial or professional services (A2) (or used for certain related uses). Bearing in mind the nature of such premises, it may be unnecessary in some cases to resort to the additional permission granted by Class M(b) for building operations that are reasonably necessary to convert the building to residential use. Existing doors, fenestration and other external features may not need to be replaced or supplemented, so that no external building works need necessarily be carried out in such cases.
Where works affecting the exterior are necessary in order to convert the building to residential use, the only restrictions in Class M that relate to such works are M.1(e), which prohibits development which would result in the external dimensions of the building extending beyond the external dimensions of the existing building at any given point, and M.1(f), which prohibits development consisting of demolition (other than partial demolition which is reasonably necessary to convert the building to residential use).
As discussed above, if a change of use of the building is the only development involved, there is no limit to the extent of the internal works that may be carried out, in accordance with section 55(2)(a). It cannot sensibly be argued that by also changing some doors and windows, which therefore requires additional prior approval under Class M(b), this somehow has the effect of bringing all the internal works into consideration as part of the development. It seems to me that section 55(2)(a) must continue to apply to these internal works, notwithstanding the inclusion in the development of (external) building works under Class M(b).
The conditions in paragraph M.2 include a requirement that where the development proposed is development under Class M(a) together with development under Class M(b), the developer must apply to the local planning authority for a determination as to whether the prior approval of the authority will be required as to a list of matters which include the design or external appearance of the building. But where the development proposed is development under Class M(a) only, prior approval is not then required as to the design or external appearance of the building. This is further confirmation that where building works are necessary under Class M(b), the only additional matter requiring prior approval is the design or external appearance of the building. Clearly the LPA is not concerned in any shape or form with any of the internal works that the developer proposes to carry out, nor is the LPA entitled to require any details of those works as part of the prior approval application or otherwise.
I have set out the position in relation to Class O and Class M, in order to examine the planning permission granted by Classes Q(a) and Q(b) in light of the points established in relation to these other Classes of development in Part 3. Class Q(a) grants permission for the residential conversion of a building and any land within its curtilage from a use as an agricultural building, and Class Q(b) grants permission for building operations reasonably necessary to convert the building to residential use.
In the same way as in Class M, the only restrictions in Class Q that relate to the building works authorised by Class Q(b) are Q.1(g), which prohibits development which would result in the external dimensions of the building extending beyond the external dimensions of the existing building at any given point, and Q.1(i) which prohibits development consisting of building operations other than the installation or replacement of windows, doors, roofs, or exterior walls, or water, drainage, electricity, gas or other services to the extent reasonably necessary for the building to function as a dwellinghouse, and also partial demolition to the extent reasonably necessary to carry out those authorised building operations.
Whilst this restriction is more prescriptive in its details than the corresponding restriction in Class M, there would appear to be no justification for treating purely internal alterations any differently from internal alterations carried out in connection with a change of use made under Class O or under Class M. For this reason, I would argue that even in the case of the residential conversion of an agricultural building there is no limit to the extent of the internal works that may be carried out, in accordance with section 55(2)(a). There still seems to me to be no basis on which it can be argued that where building works are proposed which require prior approval under Class Q(b), this somehow has the effect of bringing all the internal works into consideration as part of the development. As in the case of Class M, it seems to me that section 55(2)(a) must continue to apply to these internal works, notwithstanding the inclusion in the development of (external) building works under Class Q(b).
The conditions in paragraph Q.2 requiring the submission of a prior approval application are in the same terms as in paragraph M.2. discussed above, and so this too confirms that where building works are to be carried out under Class Q(b), the only additional matter requiring prior approval is the design or external appearance of the building, and that the LPA is not concerned in any way with any of the internal works that the developer proposes to carry out, nor is the LPA entitled to require any details of those works as part of the prior approval application or otherwise.
We come then, at last, to Prudential Insurance. How, if at all, does this judgment affect the argument? This was a spat between the claimant and a rival developer (Peel Holdings), with the LPA as the unfortunate ‘piggy-in-the-middle’. The claimant was seeking to quash a Lawful Development Certificate granted by the LPA to Peel Holdings in respect of a proposed development that they sought to carry out under an extant planning permission. The planning permission authorised “Conversion of one retail unit into two units, construction of new free-standing entrance canopies and formation of a goods access road at 1 Peel Centre, The Glover, Washington..”
The development of the Peel Centre as a whole had been authorised by an earlier planning permission issued by the Secretary of State under section 77 of the 1990 Act. A condition in that original permission provided that the development permitted should not be used for the retailing of 19 different classes of goods without the prior written consent of the LPA. A section 52 agreement (under the 1971 Act) had been signed some years earlier by Peel Holdings which precluded the sale of the same classes of goods.
The proposed use or development for which the LDC was granted comprised “open A1 retail use and a planning permission dated 11.12.2006 (06/04039/FUL) unfettered by the requirements of the section 52 agreement of 08.08.1988 as amended by the deed of revocation of 14.07.2006.”
The question for the Court was - What did the planning permission in respect of Unit 1, properly interpreted, authorise? The judge had no difficulty in stating straight away that the LPA was authorising the conversion of one shop into two together with, specifically, works to the exterior of the building necessary to achieve that conversion. He observed that the work necessary to achieve the conversion was necessarily to be undertaken both to the interior and exterior of Unit 1. As a matter of interpretation of the planning permission it might be thought obvious, he said, that it was authorising the carrying out of the building activity necessary to put in place what was shown on the two plans and which would result in the conversion of the unit from one shop into two [that is to say, both internal and external buildings works].
The claimant disagreed, relying on the definition of development in section 55(1) and the exemption from that definition provided by section 55(2)(a). Counsel for the claimant accepted that in this case planning permission was required for certain of the building operations which were specified in the planning application. They were the external alterations to Unit 1, the construction of new free-standing entrance canopies and the formation of a goods access road; each clearly constituted operational development within section 55 of the 1990 Act. He submitted, however, that the conversion of Unit 1 into two units was achieved solely by virtue of internal alterations to the building. He submitted that no planning permission was necessary for the internal alterations by virtue of section 55(2)(a). Accordingly, he submitted that, as a matter of interpretation, all that the planning permission in respect of Unit 1 authorised was the physical alterations to the exterior of the building.
The case for Peel Holdings was that "the conversion of Unit 1 into two units" constituted operational development, and that the conversion was inextricably linked with both the interior and exterior alterations to the building. [Note that this development did not constitute or include a material change of use. The judge accepted that the planning permission related to purely operational development. The use of the two new units was in practice governed by section 75.]
The judge accepted that there can be no doubt that the carrying out of an alteration which affects only the interior of the building does not constitute development. In his judgment, however, whether or not a proposal constitutes development within section 55 of the 1990 Act cannot be determined by looking at the individual component parts of the proposal in order to decide whether each, looked at in isolation, falls within or without section 55(1) and 55(1A) or whether they fall within the exceptions specified in section 55(2). It seemed to him to be wholly artificial to consider whether individual aspects of a development scheme, if standing alone, would or would not constitute development. He took the view that the issue of whether or not a proposal constitutes development must be considered by reference to the proposal looked as a whole and then answered either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.
Looked at in this way, there was no doubt in his mind that the proposal for which planning permission was sought in respect of Unit 1 constituted development. The planning permission which was granted authorised the carrying out of the whole of that development. In his judgment, therefore, the planning permission authorised the conversion of Unit 1 into two separate units and it authorised the works necessary to achieve that end.
The planning permission so granted did not limit the use to which the two units could be put. In those circumstances, Peel Holdings submitted, permission was granted for retail uses falling within Use Class A1. On any view of the wording of the planning permission, the permission granted was for retail units i.e. shops. In the absence of a condition limiting the use of the units to certain categories of goods, or a condition limiting that which could be sold, all the uses permitted under class A1 were permitted.
I am afraid I have considerable difficulty with this judgment, and in particular with the conclusion that it would be “wholly artificial to consider whether individual aspects of a development scheme, if standing alone, would or would not constitute development” and that “the issue of whether or not a proposal constitutes development must be considered by reference to the proposal looked as a whole”. This appears to me to be an assertion that is entirely unsupported by any reasoning, and which (although it refers in passing to counsel’s submissions with regard to section 55(2)(a)) makes no attempt to analyse the wording and effect of section 55.
A clear distinction must be made between, on the one hand, the conversational use of the word “development”, which can embrace all aspects of what is colloquially meant by that word in ordinary conversation (and this would undoubtedly include internal works), and on the other hand, the use of the word “development” in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which is precisely defined by section 55 and must be construed strictly in accordance with the rules of statutory interpretation. If parliament had intended that “development” should be interpreted more widely in some contexts than in others, it would undoubtedly have legislated accordingly in the 1990 Act (or in a subsequent amendment of that Act). There is nothing in the wording of section 55 to suggest that the effect of section 55(2)(a) only applies to internal works where those works are carried out in isolation, but that when internal works are carried out in conjunction with building operations to the exterior of the building, or which materially affect its external appearance, the development is then to be taken for the purposes of the Act as embracing those internal works as well as the external works. There is similarly nothing in the legislative wording to suggest that when internal works are carried out in conjunction with a material change of use, perhaps in fact in order to facilitate that change of use, the development is then to be taken for the purposes of the Act as embracing those internal works as well as the change of use itself. Such an interpretation would fly in the face of the clear statutory provision contained in section 55(2)(a), and with all due respect, it is not for a High Court judge to attempt to amend statute law, or to ignore its clear meaning and intention by applying a wider more colloquial interpretation to the word “development”.
There were in fact several other grounds of challenge in the Prudential Insurance case, all of which were dismissed, and it is clear that the case turned on the fact that what the LPA had granted was an unlimited planning permission for the creation of two new retail planning units, without any condition restricting the goods that could be sold in each of those two new units. They had failed to repeat the condition in the original planning permission for the development of the Peel Centre (as perhaps they should have done), and so they had been correct in issuing an LDC in the terms that had been sought by Peel Holdings.
In my view, the court’s apparent finding with regard to the scope of the development, in relation to section 55(1) and 55(2), would by itself have merited an appeal to the Court of Appeal, but the dismissal of the other grounds of challenge was less susceptible to challenge, and this no doubt explains why the judgment was not in fact appealed. Whilst this judgment cannot be dismissed as being ‘special to its facts’, the case for the claimant may not have seemed particularly meritorious to the Court when viewed as a whole, being (as I mentioned earlier) a commercial ‘spat’ between rival developers, and as someone once observed “context is everything”.
[Although this judgment was followed by the Court of Appeal in R. (Peel Land and Property Investments Plc) v Hyndburn BC  EWCA Civ 1680, that case turned entirely on other issues (such as the effect of section 75), and the judgment did not discuss section 55 or any suggestion that “development” could embrace internal works in addition to external works or a material change of use. The Court of Appeal did not therefore endorse the view taken in Prudential Insurance on this issue.]
For the reasons I have explained, I do not believe that any weight can be put on the court’s approach in Prudential Insurance to the definition of development in relation to internal works. Some LPAs may be tempted to cite this judgment in support of the contention that the scope for internal works, and in particular for internal structural alterations or strengthening, is limited by the conditions attached to Class Q, and some inspectors may be persuaded to accept that argument, but if or when the matter comes before the court in a future application under section 288, I doubt whether the Court will follow Prudential Insurance when a full and careful analysis is made of the statutory wording and effect of section 55, and in particular section 55(2)(a).
© MARTIN H GOODALL
Monday, 4 January 2016
Anyone who has ever had to deal with a ‘barn conversion’ (i.e. the change of use of an agricultural building, usually to residential use but sometimes for other purposes) will be well aware of the structural problems that may arise, especially where the pre-existing building proves not to be sufficiently robust to allow conversion without substantial reconstruction and, in the worst case scenario, where the building collapses (or is demolished by well-meaning builders, or destroyed by fire or storm) before the project can be completed.
I have previously discussed these issues at some length in a series of five articles I published in this blog under the title “Barn Conversions again” in March 2013, and in a sixth and final article in December 2014. However, the considerable extension of permitted development rights for various changes of use introduced between May 2013 and April 2015 has given rise to further structural issues that can arise in these cases.
Some classes of permitted development within Part 3 of the Second Schedule to the General Permitted Development Order allow a certain amount of operational development in connection with some, but not all, residential conversions. However, the extent of the building operations that can be undertaken is strictly circumscribed by the terms of the Order. The changes of use in respect of which building operations are also permitted are Class M (formerly IA) (residential conversion of a shop or of premises providing financial or professional services), Class N (residential conversion of an amusements centre or of a casino) and Class Q (formerly MB) (residential conversion of an agricultural building). It is in relation to the last of these that structural issues are most likely to arise, especially if the pre-existing building is of unconventional, and perhaps insubstantial, construction.
In all three cases, the Order permits building operations reasonably necessary to convert the building to residential use (within Use Class C3 - dwellinghouses). In the case of Classes M and Q (but not Class N), development is not permitted if it would result in the external dimensions of the building extending beyond the external dimensions of the existing building at any given point. In the case of Classes N and Q development is only permitted to the extent that it would consist of the installation or replacement of windows, doors, roofs, or exterior walls, or water, drainage, electricity, gas or other services, to the extent reasonably necessary for the building to function as a dwellinghouse. This stipulation is not made in respect of Class M, but in all three classes development demolition is prohibited, other than partial demolition to the extent specified by that Class. The wording varies slightly as between these three classes of permitted development. In the case of Class M, any partial demolition must be reasonably necessary to convert the building to residential use. In the case of Classes N and Q, it must be confined to the extent reasonably necessary to carry out the building operations permitted by that Class (as listed above). A developer under Class M thus has a slightly wider discretion with regard both to the building works carried out and as to the extent of any partial demolition, compared with a developer under Classes N or Q. A prior approval application must, of course, be made in all cases.
These statutory provisions represent the entirety of the legal constraints on the building operations that may be carried out as permitted development under these three Classes in Part 3. However, there is another important factor to be considered. Section 55(2)(a) of the 1990 Act provides that the carrying out, for the maintenance, improvement or other alteration of any building, of works which affect only the interior of the building, or do not materially affect the external appearance of the building, are not to be taken for the purposes of the Act to involve development of the land. It would be excessively legalistic, in my view, to argue that the words “for the maintenance, improvement or other alteration” of the building limit the scope of the works that are covered by section 55(2)(a). In particular I would not accept that the words “or other alteration” are to be construed ejusdem generis with “maintenance” or “improvement”; the purpose of such works may well be much wider than that. Thus I would contend that purely internal works (or works that do not materially affect the external appearance of the building) can be carried out to any building at any time and for any purpose, and that they would not amount to development under the Act provided that the completion of those works does not in itself constitute a material change of use.
Impey v. SSE (1984) 47 P. & C.R. 157 established that actual occupation of the converted building is not required in order for a material change of use to have taken place, if the conversion works have actually been completed. This was confirmed by the Supreme Court in Welwyn Hatfield v. SSCLG  UKSC 15, where the contrary suggestion that had been raised in Backer v. SSE (1984) 47 P. & C.R. 149 was rejected. However, (short of completing the conversion works) any internal works that might be, or might be alleged to be, preparatory to a change of use for which a prior approval application has not yet been made would not constitute an unlawful commencement of the permitted development in the absence of prior approval, nor would they be a breach of planning control.
There may be some readers who are tempted at this point to cite Somak Travel Ltd -v- SSE(1988) 55 P. & C.R. 250, where an internal spiral staircase had been installed. By virtue of section 55(2)(a) this did not itself constitute development, but in this case it was part and parcel of the material change of use (or integral to the change of use) of an upper floor to office use, and so a requirement in the Enforcement Notice to remove the spiral staircase was upheld. The essential point, though, is that this case was concerned solely with the requirements of the enforcement notice. The breach of planning permission comprised only the unauthorised change of use of the upper floor of the building from residential use to use as part of the travel agency business which occupied the ground floor.
It was not alleged, nor did the inspector or the High Court find, that the installation of the internal staircase constituted development in itself. [The unlawful change of use would not have occurred, at the earliest, until all the works necessary for its occupation as an office had been completed.] However, in order to remedy the breach of planning control, i.e. the change of use of the upper floor, the removal of the staircase was seen as a necessary step in the restoration of that floor of the building to residential use. It was for this reason that the requirement in the enforcement notice that the spiral staircase should be removed was upheld by the Court. The case simply confirmed that the requirements of an enforcement notice can go beyond the scope of the breach itself, if the additional steps required to be taken (in this case the removal of the spiral staircase) are a necessary part of remedying the breach so as to restore the premises to their previous use. (This was in line with two earlier cases - Murfitt -v- SSE  JPL 598 and Perkins -v- SSE  JPL 755.) It does not, however, justify calling Somak Travel in aid in an attempt to argue that there are any circumstances in which purely internal works (or works that do not materially affect the external appearance of the building) are not exempted from the definition of development under section 55(2)(a).
Bearing in mind the clear legal effect of section 55(2)(a), it is difficult to reconcile this statutory provision with the statement in the government’s online Planning Practice Guidance, as amended on 5 March 2015, that it is not the intention of what was then Class MB(b) (now Class Q(b)) to permit the construction of new structural elements for the building and, accordingly, that it is only where the existing building is structurally strong enough to take the loading associated with the external works to adapt the building for residential use that certain building opera¬tions would be considered to come within Class MB(b) [Q(b)].
This advice clearly overlooks the fact that (so long as it is confined to purely internal works or works that do not materially affect the external appearance of the building) the installation of new structural elements in the building, such as a new floor, or the addition of a mezzanine floor, structural strengthening, including a new or augmented load-bearing frame, additional or strengthened roof trusses, etc. does not constitute development at all, and is not therefore governed in any way by the scope of the permission granted by Part 3, either in respect of the change of use itself, or in respect of the operational development that is also permitted under Classes M, N and Q. The latter can clearly refer only to any external works, or works that do materially affect the external appearance of the building. There is absolutely nothing in the Planning Acts, or in the GPDO itself, that prevents or inhibits other works within the building and/or which do not materially affect the external appearance of the building, whether they are carried out before, during or after any external works permitted by the GPDO.
The restriction of building operations under Classes N and Q to the installation or replacement of windows, doors, roofs, or exterior walls, or water, drainage, electricity, gas or other services, to the extent reasonably necessary for the building to function as a dwellinghouse applies only to the external works permitted by Part 3. It has no application whatsoever to purely internal works, no matter how extensive those may be.
On the other hand, if the existing structure, and the materials from which it is constructed, are so insubstantial that the building would require almost complete demolition and reconstruction in order to meet the requirements of the Building Regulations, then this clearly falls outside the scope of what Part 3 permits (particularly as regards the limited scope of the partial demolition that is permitted). In my book on Permitted Changes of Use, I have cited an appeal decision in Bedfordshire, issued in February 2015 that confirmed this.
There have, however, been other appeal decisions where inspectors would appear to have fallen into error in determining that certain agricultural buildings which comprise, for instance, a steel frame clad with light corrugated sheet, are incapable of conversion within the terms of Class Q. In one case, in August 2015, the proposal was to replace the corrugated sheeting with timber cladding, and a roof of slate. However, the Inspector doubted that the increased weight of the new materials could be carried by the existing steel frame, which was showing signs of corrosion. No structural report had been produced to confirm that the proposed conversion could be based on the existing steel frame, and so he concluded that the conversion could not be carried out within the limited structural parameters of the permitted development allowed by Class Q. A similar decision was reached on very similar grounds in another appeal in September 2015. What both these appeal decisions appear to have overlooked is that the necessary internal strengthening could (and quite probably would) have been carried out under section 55(2)(a), and would not therefore impact in any way on the limited extent of the building operations permitted by Class Q(b).
The two specific examples mentioned above are among a growing number of prior approval appeals that have been dismissed on these or very similar grounds. In our seminar in November, members of Keystone Law’s planning law team expressed their strong disagreement with this approach to the structural issues arising in prior approval cases under Class Q, and our guest speaker Sinclair Johnston agreed with us, and showed examples of structural works that in his view are entirely lawful in accordance with section 55(2)(a). We are all agreed that any future appeal decisions which conclude that the need for internal structural alterations and strengthening of an agricultural building takes the proposed development outside the scope of the development permitted under Class Q would be open to legal challenge in the High Court under section 288 and are liable to be quashed.
At the application stage, I am also aware of one case in which the LPA refused their prior approval on the grounds that internal structural works had been carried out to the building without prior notification having been given under Part 6. They therefore alleged that the agricultural building as it existed at the time of the prior approval application was unlawful, so that permitted development under Part 3 was now ruled out, by virtue of Article 3(5). Bearing in mind the effect of section 55(2(a), this reason for refusal is clearly nonsense.
A practical way forward in future in cases where internal structural works have either been carried out already, or where they will clearly be necessary in order to facilitate the residential conversion of the building, would be to give details of those works as additional information accompanying the prior approval application, so as to demonstrate the practicability of the proposed conversion, while at the same time making it abundantly clear that those internal works do not form part of the application for prior approval because, by virtue of section 55(2)(a), they do not constitute development and do not therefore require prior approval under Part 3. The LPA should then have no excuse for alleging that the proposed development does not comply with any conditions, limitations or restrictions specified in Part 3 as being applicable to the development in question. Nor, in light of the information given by the applicant as to the purely internal works covered by section 55(2)(a), would there be any excuse for alleging that the applicant has not provided sufficient information to enable the authority to establish whether the proposed development complies with those conditions, limitations or restrictions.
© MARTIN H GOODALL