Planning: Diversification of use for rural buildings – offices, shops, gyms or houses

Planning: Diversification of use for rural buildings – offices, shops, gyms or houses

Many former full time office workers have been shown by lockdowns that they need not commute daily into towns and cities; a variety of different working options work equally well. For some this involves, on a part or full-time basis, being in (or in the curtilage of) their homes in the countryside or in a small rural office nearby. Some have converted former garages or outbuildings into personal office spaces, or have built sheds in their gardens, while others are renting small offices within easy commuting distance of their homes. There is increasing demand for small local offices to rent.

Opportunity for redundant or under-used buildings

This presents farm and estate owners with a potential opportunity for the reuse of redundant or under-used buildings. In planning terms, there are various routes available to authorise the office use of such buildings, depending on the details of the proposal. Generally, these routes include those where:

  1. a planning change of use is not necessary,
  2. a change of up to 500m2 of agricultural space is allowed under the prior approval General Permitted Development Order or
  3. planning permission could hopefully be obtained.  

If the building is listed, then listed building consent would be necessary for any structural changes or changes which affect its character as a listed building and permitted development rights would not apply.

Class E existing use

Where the last or current use of such buildings falls under what is now Class E business use (including a gym, restaurant or shop), then it may be possible to change the use from that previous use to office, without planning consent, as such uses are now within the same class (Class E). The conditions of the previous consent would however need to be checked, as would restrictions in any planning agreement or any planning restrictions affecting the area.

It might also be appropriate for owners of empty or underused buildings to consider the potential for someone to open a shop or maybe a gym there. As many people are staying closer to home more in the working week than they did pre-Covid and are choosing to buy more local produce, the need for more local facilities is increasing. Similar rules to the above would again apply, as both shops (except those (mostly) selling essential goods, including food, where the shop’s premises do not exceed 280m2 and there is no other such facility within 1,000m) and gyms fall within the same Use Class E. If it is to be a small shop, then permission for the change of use to a local shop under class F2 might be possible.

Permitted development rights

Where redundant or under-used buildings are in agricultural use, the change to office could be authorised for up to 500m2 under the prior approval Permitted Development right. The conditions and restrictions under the Order would need to be met in full, as again would conditions in any planning consent.

Class Q

Another option to consider could be a change of farm buildings into ancillary residential use, under the General Permitted Development regime (Class Q). Class Q allows the conversion of agricultural buildings to homes, subject to various conditions and limitations. Whether the right applies or not will partly be determined by the date when the agricultural use started. The building must have been in agricultural use on 20 March 2013, or if the agricultural use started after that date, the agricultural unit must have been in that use for ten or more years before an application may be submitted to the local authority. However, even where the building has been there for more than the requisite time, a Class Q application cannot be made if it is in certain protected areas.

Please do contact us or your planning consultant if you would like to discuss potential building conversions. We could run through the relevant qualifying criteria with you. We could also discuss existing agricultural or other tenancies or other hurdles which would need to be overcome, before any change of use could occur.

For more information, please contact Helen Hutton.

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