Tuesday, 3 April 2018
Class Q revisited
It always seems to take a little time for the dust to settle after an amendment to the GPDO has been made before people begin to get their heads around the changes and what they really mean.
I have now had the chance to review the changes to Class Q in more detail, and have also read some intriguing comments on the Planning Jungle website which suggest that a significant loophole has been created as regards the cumulative total of development that is now permitted under this class.
First, there is an issue that has been a subject of discussion in this blog recently, as to whether a prior approval application can be made under Class Q which relates only to Class Q(a), while postponing to a subsequent application any prior approval application in respect of necessary building operations. Class Q was reworded in the 2015 GDO as made, compared with the wording of Class MB in the 1995 Order, and in my view this was intended to make it clear that a prior approval application could no longer be made under Class Q(a) alone, except in those cases (if any) where no building operations affecting the external appearance of the pre-existing building would be required in order to carry out its residential conversion [or where such building operations will be dealt with by a separate planning application, if they go outside the permissible limits of Class Q(b)]. It seems, however, that some inspectors were nevertheless persuaded that a prior approval application could be made under Class Q(a) alone, even where a subsequent prior approval application would be required under Class Q(b).
One aspect of the further re-wording of Class Q in the latest amendment order, on which I have not previously commented, is a change to the definition of the permitted development that can be carried out under this Class. This now provides that the development permitted is EITHER (a) a change of use of a building and any land within its curtilage from a use as an agricultural building to a use falling within Class C3 (dwellinghouses), OR (b) development comprising BOTH the change of use permitted by paragraph (a), AND building operations reasonably necessary to convert the building to residential use. Thus Class Q(b) is no longer confined to building operations alone, but embraces the change of use as well as necessary building operations.
A prior approval application under Class Q(a) will therefore serve no useful purpose, except in those rare cases where all the necessary conversion works are purely internal [or where more extensive building operations, beyond the scope of Class Q(b), are intended]. If building operations affecting the external appearance of the property will be required under the terms of Class Q(b), the Class Q(b) application will necessarily include consideration of all the matters listed in paragraph Q.2(1) relating to the change of use, and not simply the one item in sub-paragraph (f) (the design or external appearance of the building). It is therefore clear that an application must be made under Class Q(b) [not Class Q(a)] where building operations within the scope of Class Q(b) will be required, and in accordance with paragraph W(2) this prior approval application must in any event be accompanied by a written description of the proposed development, which must include any building or other operations. It is only if no building operations within the scope Class Q(b) will be required, or if the intended building operations are outside the scope of Class Q(b), so as to require a separate planning application for those works, that a prior approval application under Class Q(a) will be appropriate.
Turning to the number and floorspace limits in the newly substituted paragraph Q.1(b), (c) and (d), the cumulative number of separate larger dwellinghouses (i.e. between 100 sq m and 465 sq m each) developed under Class Q must not exceed 3 within a single agricultural unit. However, the cumulative floorspace of the existing building or buildings changing use to a larger dwellinghouse or dwellinghouses under Class Q must not exceed a total of 465 sq m. So you can’t build three 465 sq m dwellings on the same agricultural unit. The average size of the larger dwellinghouses (if the maximum of three were to be converted) could be no more than 155 sq m, but they might comprise perhaps one at 110 sq m, one at 140 sq m and one at 215 sq m, or any other combination not exceeding 465 sq m in total, and not exceeding a total of three in number.
In the case of smaller dwellinghouses (i.e. not exceeding 100 sq m each) the cumulative number of these developed under Class Q must not exceed 5. But it is important to bear in mind that the total of all dwellinghouses converted under Class Q on the same agricultural unit cannot in any event exceed five. Thus the absolute maximum floorspace that can be converted to residential use is going to be 465 + 400 = 865 sq m, comprising no more than 5 dwellings in total, of which no more than three can exceed 100 sq m in size, and none of them can individually exceed 465 sq m. You can cut the cards whatever way you like, but you cannot create more than 865 sq m of residential floorspace in total (including mezzanine floors) and the maximum number of dwellings you can create cannot exceed five in total. In practice, it seems unlikely that there would be just one large dwelling of 465 sq m and four of 100 sq m; a more likely scenario would be three dwellings totalling 465 sq m in aggregate plus 2 x 100 sq m = 665 sq m.
I don’t think there can be much doubt that this was what was intended by the revised legislation, but I have not addressed the intriguing drafting error that has apparently been identified by Planning Jungle. The way that Part 3 works is that each Class first defines what the permitted development consists of, and then goes on (in paragraph Q.1, in the case of Class Q) to define the circumstances in which development is not permitted. So far so good, and my paraphrase above summarises the provisions of that paragraph. However, at the end of Class Q, there is now a new paragraph, Q.3 - “Interpretation of Class Q”. This defines “larger dwellinghouse” as a dwellinghouse developed under Class Q “which has a floor space of more than 100 sq m and no more than 465 sq m.” It follows that a dwellinghouse with a floorspace greater than 465 sq m falls outside the definition of a “larger dwellinghouse” entirely. But the provisions of paragraph Q.1 refer only to “a larger dwellinghouse or dwellinghouses” [as so defined] and do not place any limitation on the floorspace of any dwellings that do not fall into the definition of either “a smaller dwellinghouse” or “a larger dwellinghouse”. There remains an overall limit of five dwellings in total (not limited or defined by reference to their size), but it is argued by Planning Jungle (and I do not disagree with this, even though I am sure it was not intended by the draftsman) that Class Q as now revised appears to permit up to five dwellings of unlimited size on a single agricultural unit, subject (of course) to their being converted from pre-existing agricultural buildings, within the terms of Class Q.
In fairness, it is acknowledged that there is paragraph Q.1(d), which provides that development is not permitted “if the development under Class Q ……… would result in …….. a larger dwellinghouse or larger dwellinghouses having more than 465 square metres of floor space”. However, as pointed out in Planning Jungle, the reference in paragraph Q.1(d) to “a larger dwellinghouse or larger dwellinghouses” brings us back to the difficulty of the definition in paragraph Q.3, which on the face of it clearly confines the definition of “a larger dwellinghouse” to “a dwellinghouse developed under Class Q which has a floor space of ………. no more than 465 square metres”. Watch out for a further amendment order correcting this anomaly in the fairly near future!
© MARTIN H GOODALL