A guide to Class Q Conversions

For farmers and landowners, unused barns or disused, dilapidated agricultural buildings represent a great opportunity.

With their high ceilings, generously sized interiors, and exteriors made of traditional materials such as locally sourced stone, brick and timber, and rural locations, they can be transformed into stunning homes, ready to be snapped up by those who want a slice of country life.

Conversion doesn’t come cheap of course, and there are various planning legalities to adhere to when considering such a redevelopment, but the financial and aesthetic rewards can more than make up for it.

Barn conversions became popular in this country in the 1980s as their use as farm buildings declined. However, redevelopment was not always easy to achieve thanks to complex planning laws.

Fortunately, times have changed, and since 2014 planning legislation has made barn conversions easier with less red tape and more freedom in terms of design. This is down to the introduction of Class Q permitted development rights. Essentially it allows for residential conversion of agricultural buildings including barns via “prior approval”. It means the full planning application process is unnecessary as long as the building concerned meets a series of requirements. This includes the need for the building to have been used only for agricultural uses on or before March 20, 2013, to be structurally suitable to convert without structural alteration.

So why convert? Aside from the financial rewards, barns make great flexible living spaces providing the wow factor once converted. Their larger than average footprints make them ideal for a variety of uses including the current trend for open plan living with enough square footage to incorporate a large, modern, and sleek kitchen/diner alongside cosy family area.

The substantial internal space also allows the accommodation of larger pieces of furniture as well as the pets many of us have acquired in lockdown! Their generous proportions often include high vaulted ceilings which can be adapted to include mezzanine levels or, if properly supported, a first floor level with a galleried landing and feature staircase.

The high ceilings also allow the incorporation of floor-to-ceiling windows to allow not just light to flood in, but also to show off the landscape in which the barn sits. Indeed, the views are perhaps the biggest selling points. To look out over the open countryside, fields, hills, rivers, or even the sea and feel a sense of at oneness with nature or peace and quiet and an escape from the hustle and bustle of city living can be the biggest draws. Converting a barn yourself will also allow you to create something unique and being able to decide on the use and layout as well as the spec of the kitchen and bathroom yourself, will result in a stunning home designed to suit your specific needs.

Additionally, if you are looking to convert the building to sell outright or to recoup some of your investment by renting it as a holiday let or AirBnB, incorporating the existing features such as beams and original brick or stonework, will add to the charm and appeal to buyers desperate for “period features” and characterful property.

However before you get carried away, there are some things worth mentioning to be aware of. The cost to do a decent and structurally sound conversion can be high – in fact, it can be more than you think, so make sure you have plenty in your contingency budget. Equally important is to factor in the necessary services such as incorporating gas, electricity, and water not to mention broadband facilities which are essential now that many of us work from home and/or have teenagers!

Get advice on the structural integrity of the building before you start – many are hundreds of years old and don’t have deep foundations – and remember the roof could need to be replaced entirely. Most importantly, submit your Prior Approval application to the council before you proceed with any works.

However, do your homework, and you could either end up with the house of your dreams or one that will be snapped up by a discerning buyer. The long and short of it is, a conversion will only increase the value of the building.