Important news for Barn Conversions
Permitted Development means that you can build stuff without Planning Permission, right?
WRONG when it’s Prior Approval, such as Class Q, larger domestic extensions, or the Government’s new Class AA for upward extensions (among others). For those unfamiliar, Class Q is the Permitted Development right to convert redundant agricultural buildings into dwellings, much beloved of self-builders who want to undertake barn conversions.
Our Planning Director, Kelly, has drawn my attention to a recent appeal decision that moves the goalposts quite a bit on this: Bradford City Council refused a ‘prior approval’ on a barn in the heart of Bronte country, up on the moors near Keighley, essentially because they felt that the location was ‘undesirable’ for a dwelling, and this decision has been upheld at appeal.
Details can be seen under application ref. 20/01389/PAR on Bradford Council’s website:
On these sorts of development you still need to make an application to your Local Authority before you start work. In theory, they should be measuring your proposal against fixed criteria, and if you meet those criteria, the go-ahead should be automatic. On Class Q, these criteria are mainly centred around size limits and the practical suitability of the building for conversion.
But among the Prior Approval criteria has always been the condition that the conversion should not be allowed where ‘the location and siting of the building makes it… impractical or undesirable…”.
It’s usually fairly easy to judge ‘impractical’ against technical criteria, but what about ‘undesirable’?
Class Q has always been somewhat at odds with broader Planning Policy, because by its very nature it tends to permit the creation of new dwellings in open countryside, outside settlement boundaries and in locations that the Planning system regards as ‘unsustainable’. For this reason, it’s always been tacitly accepted that Class Q conversions were acceptable even in locations that would be viewed as ‘undesirable’ under the normal scope of national Planning Policy.
In the Bradford City Council case, the appeals inspector has upheld the Authority’s refusal, essentially on the grounds that the light spill and paraphernalia associated with domestic use (parked cars, garden furniture and formal planting) would have an unwelcome ‘urbanising’ effect on the landscape.
This is a disquieting judgement for a number of reasons:
- There are already very strict criteria in place under Class Q to limit the size of the domestic curtilage associated with such buildings.
- In addition, Class Q does not afford normal domestic Permitted Development rights for extensions or outbuildings.
- The whole of Class Q is inapplicable to buildings situated on land protected by article 2(3) designation (ie. national parks, AONB’s, conservation areas, The Broads of a World Heritage site).
Taken together, these criteria in and of themselves should be considered to give adequate protection to constrain landscape impact to acceptable levels: that’s what these specific restrictions are there for.
Beyond that, the fells above Keighley are familiar to me from my youth and ironically one of the things that actually characterises the landscape is the presence of individual, very isolated dwellings. You might, indeed, say that it is precisely what these moors are most famous for: the Keighley applications site lies literally a couple of miles directly North of Haworth, home to both the Bronte Sisters and Top Withens, the farmhouse said to be the inspiration for Wuthering Heights in the novel of the same name.
When one is walking upon these fells – as I did so much when I was younger – it is often the counterpoint of such small and isolated habitations against the surrounding openness that acts to highlight the landscape’s scale and grandeur.
It begs the question how fit for purpose our Planning system is, when it prevents precisely the sort of development that creates the character of a landscape it is seeking to protect.
As if these issues weren’t enough, the actual landscape setting of the Keighley application building is such that the prominence of the development would be rather restricted.
Whilst certainly the building can be seen from the road, Tarn Lane, it is set at the head of a steep valley (known as a ‘Clough’ in this part of Yorkshire), with the proposed curtilage behind and below the building itself and screened from the south by a stand of trees.
Even if landscape impact is accepted as representing a measure by which Class Q can be refused – a dangerous precedent, where the technical criteria can be said to offer sufficient protection already – it is questionable whether this particular application should have been refused on such grounds.
Now that we’re aware of this decision, there are ways we can mitigate the risk of similar judgements in future, however, so if you’re looking at ta Class Q application, contact us to discuss how we can help.