‘Required’ reading

An inspector has refused to grant prior approval for the change of use of a barn in Worcestershire to commercial use under Class R of the GPDO on the grounds that it would require the material widening of an access to a classified road (DCS Number 200-009-072).

The inspector recorded that one of the exceptions to the permission granted by Schedule 2 of the GPDO is detailed in Article 3(6) which provides that the permission does not, except in relation to certain other classes within Parts 9 and 18 which did not apply, ‘authorise any development which requires or involves the…material widening of a means of access to an existing highway which is a trunk road or a classified road.’

The first argument put forward was that the development consisted purely of a change of use of the building to a flexible use and, in those strict terms, the change of use, did not ‘require’ or ‘involve’ the material widening of a means of access, and indeed, any associated operational development would require a planning application. The inspector ruled, however, that giving the words in Article 3(6) their plain meaning, while the development was a change of use, if it required the material widening of an access to a trunk or classified road, it would be caught by Article 3(6). Moreover, he reasoned, if it was intended that other classes, such as a change of use permitted under Class R, should be excepted from Article 3(6) in addition to certain classes within Parts 9 and 18, it would have been perfectly possible to have specified those other classes.

The second strand of the appellant’s argument was that the extent of the widening did not constitute a ‘material widening’ of the access and that Article 3(6) did not apply for that reason. In this regard the inspector noted that, although the access tapered, the highway authority’s recommendation was for it to be increased to a minimum of 5.5 metres in width for 10 metres back from the road. He calculated that this translated to about a 2 metre increase, at least from the point 5 metres back where the existing width was 3.4 metres. In his view, given the relative dimensions, the increase did constitute a ‘material widening’ of the existing access. His view was reinforced by the effect and purpose of the widening which would be to change the access from single track to dual track, thus enabling two vehicles to pass each other.

The third aspect of the appellant’s submissions was that the widening of the access could be addressed by means of a condition attached to the prior approval. The inspector ruled, however, that it was not possible to make the leap suggested, which appeared to seek to resolve the question of whether the development was permitted development under the GPDO by attaching a condition. He explained that the imposition of conditions relates to the subject matter of the prior approval and cannot address whether the development is permitted development in the first place.

The inspector decided that giving the words in Article 3(6) their plain meaning, it was relevant to the proposed change of use under Class R. The next critical question, therefore, was whether the proposal did require the material widening of the existing access to the classified road. Having found that it would increase the risk to highway safety if the access remained unaltered, and particularly given the clearly expressed view of the highway authority, he concluded that it did. Therefore, the proposal was not permitted development.

Further information concerning Class R can be found at section 4.3423 of DCP Online.