South West property owners planning barn conversions now have a better chance for approval from local councils, thanks to a key change to planning guidance.

Recent changes to Planning Guidance have led some Local Planning Authorities (LPA) to adopt a more welcoming attitude to agricultural building conversions, under new permitted development rules.

Plans to convert an agricultural building to a residence or other property type are known as a Class Q application. Previously, Class Q cases were frequently refused due to question marks over the structural strength of the buildings.

The new rules clear up areas which had been common reasons for refusing these applications. For example, the new guidance addresses the issue of a building’s structural suitability for conversion, and now states that “It is not the intention of the permitted development right to allow rebuilding work which would go beyond what is reasonably necessary for the conversion of the building to residential use.

“Therefore, it is only where the existing building is already suitable for conversion to residential use that the building would be considered to have the permitted development right”, which means a move away from a strict structural test. The guidance also makes clear that internal works (e.g. new floors within the existing building) should not be taken into account.

A successful Class Q application essentially means that agricultural buildings can be converted into homes without the need to secure planning permission, which could mean developing up to five homes in an agricultural building or converting and developing up to 465 square metres of floor space.

A recent survey by Planning Resource has named Cornwall Council as allowing the second highest number of agricultural conversions under permitted development rights in the country, while nearby councils in Teignbridge, North Devon, Mid Devon and South Hampshire have also featured in the UK’s top 15 most permissive councils.

These statistics don’t mean that barn conversion applications can be made without preparation, however, as the same survey also revealed these councils to have the highest numbers of refused agricultural conversions.

Carefully considering, preparing and presenting a sound planning application to the Local Planning Authority will give it the best chance of approval, and this remains the case despite the increased likelihood of success in a barn conversion application.

If plans to convert your existing agricultural buildings don’t completely meet your needs, it can still be beneficial to gain permission under Class Q to use as a ‘fallback’ plan when promoting an alternate scheme.