So having ranted about the latest PD rights for retail to residential conversions I promised that I would look at the latest changes to permitted development (PD) rights for the changes of use of agricultural buildings, which came into force in April 2014.

The Government has essentially created two new sets of PD rights:

Class MA allows the change of use of an agricultural building and any land within its curtilage to a state funded school or a registered nursery; and

Class MB allows for the change of use of an agricultural building and any land within its curtilage to a C3 residential dwelling and the building works necessary to convert the building.

I am sure that as an owner or an agent that has or is marketing agricultural buildings you are probably jumping up and down with excitement over the thought of re-using that old redundant barn that is falling down in the corner of the yard or in one of the fields that the planners would rather see fall down than do anything else with.  

On the face of it this seems great, redundant rural buildings can be re-used with limited fuss and bother to create locally accessible employment opportunities, local schools, much needed child care facilities and more rural homes. But as with all things planning, it’s not quite as it seems and so I wouldn’t get too excited.   Whilst the Government does seem to have given huge ground here, the reality is actually somewhat different. So let’s take a look at the restrictions and conditions attached to these new use PD rights.

Class MA – change of use to a state funded school or registered nursery  

The reality is this:

  • The building has to have been in agricultural use prior to 20th March 2013;

  • If it’s not currently being used it has to have only been in agricultural use;

  • If the building is brought into agricultural use after the 20th March 2013 then 10 years has to pass before this permitted development right applies.

  • The permitted change of use is limited to a maximum of 500 sq.m of both floorspace and curtilage land;

  • The use can’t be changed through PD rights if it’s occupied under an agricultural tenancy unless both the tenant and landlord agree to the change of use;

  • If an agricultural tenancy has been terminated for the purpose of implementing this permitted development right then a year has to pass before this applies, unless the landlord and tenant agree in writing that the site’s no longer required for agricultural use;

  • Also new agricultural buildings that have only recently been erected either since the 20th March 2013 or that have been up for less than 10 years won’t benefit from these PD rights until they have been in agricultural use for that full 10 year period;

  • These PD rights don’t apply if the buildings/sites are in SSIs, a safety hazard area, a military explosives storage area, are or contain scheduled ancient monuments or are listed;

  • PD rights are limited to just the specified use as a state funded school or nursery and no other use within the D1 use class (non residential institutions);

  • Before any change of use of the building and its land is undertaken ‘prior approval’ is required from the Local Planning Authority relating to its transport and highways impact; noise impact; contamination risk; flood risk and whether or not the location or siting of the building is practical and desirable for use as a state funded school or nursery.

So there you go a raft of restrictions which limit the type and age of buildings that benefit from this PD right and the requirement of the submission of an application (let’s not kid ourselves a prior approval process is an application) for the change of use to the relevant LPA . Furthermore, the final assessment criteria will open up an assessment against all ‘relevant’ policies within the pertinent Authority’s Development Plan and the National Planning Policy Framework.  Which, as we all know, are pretty restrictive for development in the Countryside and areas washed over by Green Belt.

Class MB – change of use to residential with associated building works

The range of restrictions and the prior approval process are essentially the same for MA PD rights, with only a few differences.  For the sake of brevity, and the fact that anyone reading this has probably already lost the will to live, I will just run through the differences. These are:

  • The total amount of both floorspace and outside curtilage space is limited to a maximum of 450 sq.m for a residential use, out of which a maximum of three residential units can be created;

  • Any new building work has to be within the footprint of the existing building;

  • Only partial demolition is acceptable;

  • Only windows, doors, roofs or exterior walls, gas, drainage, electricity, gas or other services can be installed or replaced to carry out the work that is reasonably necessary to create a residential dwelling;

  • Aswell as excluding PD rights for buildings within SSIs, a safety hazard area, a military explosives storage area, that are or contain scheduled ancient monuments or are listed this further excludes buildings and sites in National Parks, the Norfolk Broads, conservation areas, ANOBs and World Heritage Sites;

  • Whilst the ‘prior approval’ process requires the submission to assess its transport and highways impact; noise impact; contamination risk; flood risk and whether or not the location or siting of the building is practical and desirable for use as a residential dwelling, there is the additional caveat that the LPA can ask for other relevant assessments, mitigation statements and operational details – so essentially it’s important to refer to a LPAs local list for application validation requirements;

  • The Government has also helpfully added in a couple of sneaky caveats (possibly to appease Tory back benchers and the rural protection lobbyists) to allow conditions to be attached to a prior approval notice. Bet we can all guess the number of conditions and scope of detail these will require;

  • They also allow prior approval notices to be refused where they don’t comply with any conditions, limitations or restrictions specified by the LPA.  So don’t expect your LPA to be removing any rural development policies just yet.


The question is are these additional PD rights helpful, beneficial and will they increase rural housing provision. I think my answer to that is going to have to be no, but I am prepared to be proved wrong!  

These PD rights probably won’t help to change the use of agricultural buildings easily. The reality is that there is more likelihood that these PD rights will only be successful for changes of use to schools and nurseries than to open market residential, as this is more likely to accord with existing policy requirements.  It will be difficult to change the perceptions and actions of LPA planners to allow residential development in the countryside.  This will take more than restricted PD rights but a fundamental policy shift, which I’m not sure anyone is brave enough to make.  Furthermore, the process isn’t going to be any less expensive or quicker than with the submission of a full planning application.  

Interestingly there are no restrictions on what can or can’t be physically done to a building under class MA school/nursery. But the assumption would have to be that it would be change of use and the necessary works to convert the building.  So extensions to accommodate the use are not applicable.

The restrictions placed on the physical alterations to buildings under class MB – residential dwellings, are more controlled.  However the conditions rely on the use of vague and undefined terminology including ‘partial demolition’ and ‘work that is reasonably necessary to create the dwelling’. Which will undoubtedly cause much argument between parties.

As a Planner I would, of course, advise that professional advice and representation is sought to guide you through the mind numbing, eye watering complexities of the planning system. But it’s because in the planning world things are never as straightforward as they first seem and the creation of these new PD rights for agricultural buildings are an example of this!

But hey, if you have an agricultural building that needs rescuing with a new lease of life give me a call and I’ll see what we can do in relation to the reality of the restrictions and the compliance checklist.  

P.S. I promise the next blog will be light hearted and a bit fluffy!