Wednesday, 20 March 2019
Class Q - “Last” used for agriculture?
One problem that seems to recur regularly in relation to prior approval applications for the residential conversion of an agricultural building under Class 3, Part Q in the Second Schedule to the GPDO is whether a former agricultural use was the last use of the building, or whether it has been used for other purposes since then.
It is clear from the wording of paragraph Q.1(a) that a non-agricultural use of the building after its agricultural use ceased would disqualify the building from residential conversion under Class Q. However, it should not be assumed that any other use, no matter how minor, would automatically have this effect.
By virtue of section 55(2)(e), the agricultural use of land and of any building occupied together with land so used is not to be taken for the purposes of the 1990 Act to involve development of the land. It follows that if the building is then used in some way that represents a material change of use, then the agricultural use will be at an end, and will have been supplanted by the new use that replaced it. The crucial question, however, is whether such subsequent non-agricultural use did in fact represent a material change in the use of the building, or whether it was of no real significance in planning terms, so as to have been de minimis.
It cannot automatically be assumed that any use of an agricultural or former agricultural building for some non-agricultural purpose would represent a material change of use. This is bound to be a matter of fact and degree in each case, but, a casual, low key or occasional use for other purposes would not normally amount to a material change of use, if this did not result in any significant change in the character of the building’s use, nor a change in its impact in planning terms. Bearing this in mind, it seems clear that the disqualification in paragraph Q.1 would not apply unless the subsequent non-agricultural use of the building did amount to a material change of use. The disqualification in paragraph Q.1 would not therefore be engaged where any such non-agricultural use was, as a matter of fact and degree, de minimis.
A discussion of the materiality of a change of use will be found in my book, The Essential Guide to the Use of Land and Buildings under the Planning Acts (Bath Publishing, ISBN978-0-9935836-5-0) in paragraph 3.8 of Chapter 3 in that book.
I do not usually report inspectors’ planning appeal decisions in this blog, but a practical example of this approach to the issue was provided by an appeal decision at Great Totham, Essex (Maldon DC) in July 2018 . The appeal building was part of a long standing and larger farm complex which was subdivided in 1988. The LPA suggested that there had been no agricultural activity since 1988 and that the building had instead been used for both commercial and domestic activities. The appellant himself had never operated an agricultural trade or business from the appeal building and it was no longer part of an established agricultural unit. However, this did not mean it had moved away from its historic and lawful agricultural use, and the Inspector noted that planning permission to use the building for purposes unrelated to agriculture had never been granted. On the balance of probability, he therefore found that the building was probably last in an active agricultural use as part of an agricultural unit in 1988.
At points between 1988 and 2004 the appellant operated a number of heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) from the yard as part of an agricultural haulage business. There was nothing to suggest the material being transported derived from an agricultural unit operated by the appellant. However, the HGV licence only permitted the parking of HGV vehicles in the yard. The HGV vehicles were too large to be parked within the appeal building. There was nothing before the Inspector to suggest the barn formed part of this enterprise. The Inspector therefore concluded that the lawful agricultural use, which had not been active since 1988, would have endured even if the building had been used occasionally to support the unlawful HGV business (which seemed unlikely).
The appeal building itself had been intermittently used to store a tractor and other paraphernalia left over from the historic agricultural use, such as apple crates. The barn had also, at points, been used to kennel dogs, to park vehicles and as a workshop. The barn was described as being used for the storage of the owner’s vehicles and farm equipment, but it was unclear what farm the equipment related to. The storage and workshop use appeared to be domestic in nature given the items on show.
It was unclear whether the non-agricultural uses were for unbroken periods of time, more than intermittent and consistently more than low key. As such, the recorded use of the appeal building as a store and workshop was unlikely to be sufficient evidence to demonstrate that a material change of use of the barn from agriculture to some other use had occurred [my added emphasis]. Thus the historic and long standing use as an agricultural building had endured. This suggested that the barn had had a lawful dormant agricultural use since 1988. The LPA had never previously asserted that a material change of use from agriculture to some other use had occurred.
The Inspector observed that the evidence before him was incomplete and finely balanced but, on the balance of probability [my emphasis again], he found that the appeal building, whilst not in use on the 20 March 2013, was last lawfully used in 1988 and this was solely for agriculture in connection with an established agricultural unit. In this respect, the permitted development rights in Class Q of the GPDO applied to the appeal building. The Inspector therefore found that the proposal was permitted development, and concluded that the appeal should be allowed and approval granted.
An alternative argument on the part of LPAs that has occasionally been encountered is the assertion that casual or occasional storage of domestic items, or of logs as firewood renders the use of the building in question ‘ancillary’ to the residential use of a nearby farmhouse (or former farmhouse). However, it should be borne in mind that the farmhouse is a separate planning unit, and so the use of any of the agricultural buildings cannot be ancillary to the use of that other planning unit. (See Westminster City Council v British Waterways Board  A.C. 676.)
In some cases, the mistaken view as to the agricultural building’s ancillary status is based on the assumption that the building is within the curtilage of the farmhouse. But a nearby barn or other agricultural building is very unlikely to be within the domestic curtilage of the farmhouse, because in most cases the agricultural building does not meet the essential functional test in Sinclair-Lockhart’s Trustees v Central Land Board (1950) 1 P. & C.R. 195. Furthermore, in most cases it would not meet the requirement laid down in Dyer v Dorset CC  1 Q.B. 346 of forming one enclosure with the farmhouse. (See also Burford v SSCLG  EWHC 1493 (Admin).) Any doubt on this score was entirely dispelled by the High Court judgment in R (Egerton) v Taunton Deane BC  EWHC 2752 (Admin), which established that nearby farm buildings are very unlikely to be within the curtilage of the farmhouse. [This point has previously been discussed in this blog, on Friday, 15 March 2013 - "Barns near listed farmhouses" - when I analysed the Egerton judgment in some detail.]
© MARTIN H GOODALL