Article hero

Using Class Q Permitted Development Rights to Achieve your Dream Home

November 2022

The Class Q Permitted Development right to convert agricultural buildings to dwellings has now been with us for eight years. Over that period we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of farm buildings being converted to homes across the country. This has provided a useful opportunity for those seeking their dream home in the countryside, while also providing farm businesses with much needed rental income or capital receipts.

Although the Class Q legislation has remained largely unchanged in recent years, it is a surprisingly moveable feast in terms of how it applied by councils. It is therefore essential to have a keen understanding of the legislation and local context to make the most out of Class Q, while avoiding the various pitfalls that could undermine an application.

So what are the key things to think about before embarking on a project?

What does the Class Q permitted development right allow?
Within an agricultural holding, Class Q permits a landowner to convert agricultural buildings to create up to three larger dwellings (to a maximum combined floor area of 465 sq.m.), or up to five smaller dwellings (each 100 sq.m. floor area or less), or a combination of the two (with a maximum of five dwellings overall).

Are there any criteria that must be satisfied?
To qualify for conversion, a building must meet a range of criteria. Some of these criteria are fairly straight forward – for example buildings must be (or have last been) in agricultural use, must not be listed or located in a conservation area or area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB).

However, other criteria are more nuanced and therefore require careful consideration and judgement. For example a building must be physically capable of being converted without requiring significant alteration or replacement of features such as walls or roofs. Every council applies this criteria slightly differently and so what might be deemed acceptable in one area, may not be in another. A clear understanding of how each particular council treats this matter is therefore essential.

Are there any limitations I should be aware of?
Yes. Class Q does not allow for buildings to be extended in any way. Even a flue extending beyond the existing envelope of the building may not be permitted. External garden and parking areas are also restricted and can be no larger than the footprint of the existing building.

Is there an application process?
Yes. If the building meets the qualification criteria, then an application for prior approval must be submitted to the local council. The council will then assess the application against the relevant criteria and make a judgement as to whether prior approval should be granted. A decision should be issued within eight weeks of the application being registered.

The Council will also consider the impacts of development in terms of highways, noise, flooding and contamination. Other considerations are whether the location is unsuitable or undesirable for residential use. For example, prior approval is unlikely to be granted where the new dwelling would be situated in the middle of an active farm yard or in close proximity to livestock accommodation.

Once prior approval is granted, the conversion must be completed within three years.

Is Class Q affected by the nutrient neautriality issue?
Many protected habitat areas across the country have been identified as being in an unfavourable condition due to high levels of phosphate pollution. In those areas the relevant councils, following advice from Natural England, have determined they cannot grant planning permission for any new development (including new homes) that would result in additional nutrient pollution reaching the protected areas.

However, Natural England has taken the view that permitted development (including Class Q) is exempt from having to demonstrate nutrient neutrality within the catchment of the Somerset Levels and Moors Ramsar site. This means that prior approval may be granted in this area.

Unfortunately this exemption does not apply to sites protected by European legislation and so sites within the catchment of the River Axe, River Camel, River Avon and Poole Harbour will still be burdened with the requirement to demonstrate nutrient neutrality.

Can I make changes after prior approval is granted?
The restrictions imposed by Class Q can sometimes mean that certain compromises are required to secure prior approval. If you wish to make changes to your prior approval scheme then it will be necessary to apply for planning permission. Such changes might include physical alterations to the building, extending garden areas or amending access arrangements. The council will consider any such application on its merits, however if the changes would result in an overall improvement to the original prior approval scheme then permission is likely to be granted.

Can I swap my prior approval for something different?
Potentially, yes. Once prior approval has been granted this effectively establishes the principle that residential development can occur. This is commonly referred to as establishing a ‘fallback position’. You can then submit a follow up planning application for new build residential development which, if successful, could be developed instead.

Many Councils require that the new build proposal should be no larger than the Class Q design in terms of floor area, and should represent an enhancement when compared to the Class Q scheme (for example in terms of design and layout). There are now many examples of where a Class Q fallback position has been used successfully to justify an alternative form of development.

Another benefit of the Class Q fallback position is that a follow up planning application within the Somerset Levels and Moors catchment may also be exempt from having to demonstrate nutrient neutrality. At the time of writing this approach has been accepted by South Somerset District Council and Mendip District Council.

Get in touch
Class Q permitted development rights continue to offer a fantastic opportunity to achieve a residential change of use for agricultural buildings. That being said, the process is not always straight forward and there are many things to consider to ensure you make the most out of your project. For bespoke advice in relation to development proposals throughout the South West, please contact our dedicated team of planning consultants, telephone 01823 334466 or email


Related News