Tuesday, 13 June 2017
Qualifying use of agricultural building under Class Q
I am grateful to Nathan Dickinson for drawing to my attention a problem that seems to have arisen over the interpretation by certain LPAs of the rules relating to the qualification of agricultural buildings for residential conversion under Class Q in Part 3 of the Second Schedule to the GPDO. I explained the rules in Chapter 9 of my book, “A Practical Guide to Permitted Changes of Use” (which can still be ordered by clicking on the link on the left-hand side of this page.).
Paragraph Q.1(a) puts this in the negative. Development is not permitted by Class Q if the site [i.e the building and an area no larger than its footprint] was not used solely for an agricultural use as part of an established agricultural unit on 20th March 2013, or (in the case of a building which was in use before that date but had ceased to be used for agriculture by that date) when it was last in use.
I really don’t think there can be much doubt as to what this means. The building must have been in agricultural use on, or at some date before, 20 March 2013, but it still qualifies if it is no longer used for agricultural purposes, provided it has not been used for any other purpose since ceasing to be used for agriculture. Thus a redundant or disused agricultural building does qualify for conversion under Class Q, but this permitted development right is lost if the building has been put to some other use since it ceased to be used for agriculture.
I can therefore find no justification whatsoever for the bizarre interpretation that Breckland DC (to name just one LPA) has sought to put on Class Q. They have entirely ignored the words of paragraph Q.1(a) and have seized instead on the operative words of Class Q(a), namely “Development consisting of - (a) a change of use of a building and any land within its curtilage from a use as an agricultural building [their emphasis] to a use falling within Class C3 (dwellinghouses) of the Schedule to the Use Classes Order……..” Thus, they claim, the building has to be in current agricultural use, and they demand that the applicant should demonstrate that this is for a trade or business purpose.
I understand that the Council bases this interpretation on the definition of “agricultural building” in paragraph X, viz: “a building (excluding a dwellinghouse) used for agriculture and which is so used for the purposes of a trade or business”. This, they seem to assume, means that to be an agricultural building as specified in Class Q(a) the building must now be used for agriculture (and it is not disputed that this necessarily requires that this use is or was commercial, and would not include a use that only amounted to hobby farming). However, if present and continued agricultural use were to be a necessary qualifying criterion, it would render the words of paragraph Q.1(a) entirely otiose. The inclusion in that paragraph of a reference to a building which was in use before 20 March 2013 but had ceased to be used for agriculture by that date was clearly intended to show that the building qualifies if it was last in use for agriculture, but has since been disused.
Clearly, if anyone gets a nonsense decision from any LPA which purports to find that the building in question is disqualified from residential conversion under Class Q because it is not currently in agricultural use, even though it was last used for an agricultural trade or business and was so used on or before 20th March 2013, they should have no hesitation in appealing to the Planning Inspectorate against this decision under section 78, and coupling this appeal with application for an award of costs, bearing in mind that an LPA will be held to have behaved unreasonably if its refusal of planning permission (or in this case prior approval) is based on a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the law.
© MARTIN H GOODALL