Class R – An option overlooked by many?

For this week’s article Beth is revisiting her dissertation topic and is sharing her findings and thoughts with you two years on from completing it.

When you hear the words ‘permitted development’ most people’s minds will go straight to converting agricultural barns to residential use. However, the often ‘forgotten’ about permitted development right, or should I say underutilised right is conversion from agricultural to commercial use, otherwise known as Class R.

Class R allows for the conversion of agricultural building into flexible commercial use such as (but not limited to) shops, cafes, storage and distribution and hotels. Whilst this may seem a very exciting prospect, especially when joined up with the fact that this type of permitted development is allowed in National Parks and AONBs (unlike class Q), the uptake of Class R is limited. An important point to note is that the size of the area to be converted. When under 150 square metres there is little requirement  for consultation. When over 150 square metres there may be ability for the Council to request flooding, highways, contamination, noise and traffic consultations which can be considered further.

But why? The key and main reason I found when undertaking my dissertation was the fact that Class R does not allow for ANY building operations. This means that it does not permit the installation of windows, doors or even new internal walls. It quite quickly becomes apparent that there is little merit in using this permitted development right unless you have a building that is already fitted with windows, doors and anything else the building will need to be converted. Agricultural buildings are very rarely, if ever, ready and suitable for conversion without building operations. This issue is reasonably straightforward to overcome through the ‘dual application’ route. This is simply gaining the principle of the development through a class R application whilst concurrently submitting a full application for the building operation works. However the requirement to submit what is essentially two applications, and the risk of the unknown response to the full application for building works is one of the main factors that reduces the uptake of Class R.

However, the lack of ability to undertake building operations is not the only limiting factor on the uptake of Class R. My dissertation led me to review all Class R applications that had been made across the Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) of Herefordshire and Worcestershire. There had been only 29 applications for Class R since the beginning of 2015, up to early 2019 when I completed the research. Of these applications, 10 were refused or withdrawn. Of those refused, the most common reason for refusal by LPAs was transportation issues. Whilst it is clear that for applications over 150 square metres, highways have to be consulted on the prior approval, there appears to be a barrier caused by transportation matters. However, as previously highlighted by the Department for Communities and Local Government the planning system and policies should be encouraging re-use of buildings where their current use is no longer viable, through creation of new business and job, and it should be expected by LPAs that there will be traffic generation and need to access the buildings. The way to either overcome this reason for refusal, or to gain understanding that the development will not be possible, is through a highways assessment by a suitably qualified person. At Eldnar we work with a select list of professionals who can work to provide information required.

Finally, and in my opinion the easiest reason for lack of uptake on Class R to overcome is a lack of knowledge and understanding by those who have agricultural barns for development. As part of my dissertation I interviewed several planning professionals, most of which highlighted and agreed a lack of understanding of Class R, when comparing it to Class Q. Some of the professionals said they felt that the owners of suitable property would favour Class Q as they saw it as a much more lucrative option but also the owners were not aware of Class R. However, if you as a property owner do not want people living in close proximity to your farm or own house, or you want to diversify your farm business into something for yourself, Class R may provide a good opportunity instead of Class Q.  Our role is to best advise you based on your objectives for your property. Please do get in touch if you feel that Class R is something you would like to understand further.

An example of how Class R can be successfully used was demonstrated by Eldnar earlier this year. Class R prior approval (under 150 sq.m) via the notification process was used with Wychavon DC to gain the principle of B8 storage and distribution use on a dilapidated building. Once the LPA acknowledged the change of use had taken place, a full application to replace the building for its new use was submitted approved. This demonstrates perfectly how a dilapidated agricultural building can be swapped for a brand new commercial building.