Sound as a barn

30 Oct 2023

Let’s not deny the reality that Class Q permitted development rights have been sought for all sorts of ramshackle old farm buildings, and why wouldn’t you give it a go given the potential uplift in value? However, in granting Class Q prior approval for the change of use of an agricultural building to dwellinghouses, an inspector fired a warning shot to deter councils from requesting structural surveys where they are not needed.

In the case in question (400-042-831) it was the council’s contention that the building operations would not comprise a conversion, citing the judgment in Hibbitt and another v SSCLG and Rushcliffe BC [2016], and therefore the proposal could not be permitted development under Class Q. The council raised a specific concern over the structural stability of the existing building in its reasons for refusal.

The inspector, however, found it “incredibly difficult to understand” why the council considered that a structural survey was required. His observations were that the modern agricultural building with a steel frame and metal cladding showed no obvious signs of any structural weakness or damage.

This was borne out by a visual structural survey and assessment submitted by the appellant with the appeal. The survey reported no signs of any misalignment, deformation or deflection of the structural framing and cladding, and concluded that only minor works were required to convert the building. Despite this, the council criticised the survey for not including a trial pit inspection.

By this time the inspector’s exasperation was showing. His firm statement was that the existing building did not exhibit any characteristics which necessitated a structural survey, let alone a more intrusive trial pit inspection. An air of tetchiness can be detected, we think.

In an accompanying decision on costs, the inspector continued to speak plainly. He set out that a blanket approach requiring structural surveys for all Class Q development is not appropriate, and where there are no particular reasons to doubt the structural stability of the existing building it is unreasonable to request a structural survey. The council had acted unreasonably, in his opinion, and had also failed to justify or substantiate its reason for refusal. An award of costs was made.

Class Q permitted development rights and the implications of Hibbitt are set out in further detail in DCP 4.3423, while practice matters in relation to rural housing including dwellings formed from barn conversions are considered in DCP 9.314.