PDR applications still hampered by council misinterpretation

The acceptance rate for permitted development rights (PDRs) applications has risen to 80%, showing progress has been made compared with the previously lesser-known and misunderstood system.

PDRs enable certain types of development to be granted without applicants having to go through the full planning permission process, and were introduced to tackle the national housing deficit.

In 2018, the right for changing the use of agricultural buildings to dwellings (Class Q) was amended to allow for up to five dwellings and up to 865sq m floor space to be converted, and this has seen an overall increase in uptake.

See also: How Class Q development rights are working in practice

However, over the past few years, they have been generally misunderstood by local planning authorities and were even often mistakenly refused.

Though more applications are now being made and granted, councils are still interpreting the rules differently with success rates fluctuating even within the same county, say advisers.

Landowners may be more aware of the opportunity than they were previously, but agricultural conversions still account for a low percentage of the total PDR applications.

The government’s most recent figures (July-September 2019) show that district level planning authorities in England received 106,500 applications for planning permission and granted 90,600 (88% success rate).

Of the 8,600 PDR applications reported in this period, prior approval was not required for 4,900, and permission was granted for 1,900 and refused for 1,800 – an overall acceptance rate of 80%. Just 7% of the applications related to agricultural to residential changes.

Resisted by councils

According to Georgina Simonds, graduate surveyor at Rostons, in general, PDRs have been resisted by local planning authorities – particularly where development is rife and the number of applications is high and stretching resources.

“Applications in Cheshire are split between two local planning authorities, with one generally more accepting than the other,” she said. “It is important to remember that the problem may not always lie with the council but a lack of understanding of the criteria by applicants.”

If in doubt as to whether an application complies with the PDR criteria, either professional guidance should be sought or a full planning application route, where there is more flexibility, should be considered, says Ms Simonds.

Varied interpretations

Class Q application success remains variable between different local planning authorities and sometimes even within the same council, says Tony Kernon, director of Kernon Countryside Consultants and recently appointed British Institute Of Agricultural Consultants chairman.

“The greatest area of variability relates to interpretations about whether or not the works go beyond a conversion,” he said. “Some officers interpret the need to install a wall in an open-fronted section, for example, as more than a conversion.”

Class Q does not apply within National Parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty, for listed buildings, or if a landowner has put up any buildings or carried out any Part 6 agricultural permitted development since 20 March 2013.

Therefore, even if farmers are aware of it, it may not be relevant for a substantial amount of people, says Mr Kernon.

Advice for PDR applications

  • Provide plenty of information about the structural quality of the building.
  • Explain what will be retained in terms of walling or roof sheeting.
  • Research what has been permitted locally under Class Q and refer to that.
  • Class Q is a rule-based approval – do not make schoolboy errors such as making curtilage too big.
  • Check your proposal carefully.
  • You may be asked for an ecological survey – build that into your programme and costs.
  • Class Q only applies to buildings in agricultural use on 20 March 2013 – double check this if there is any doubt about the use.
  • Using your Part 6 agricultural permitted development rights since March 2013 can result in you losing Class Q. If you need to modify other farm buildings or tracks, for example, consider making a full planning application to protect the Class Q right.
  • You must complete the conversion within three years, not just start it.

Source: Tony Kernon

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