From 1 August, new Permitted Development (PD) Rights will allow unused commercial buildings to be converted into homes, amongst other confirmed changes to PD rights for public buildings and ports.
Through a Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government press release on 31 March 2021, the Government confirmed a series of new freedoms to support high streets as they navigate their way out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new Class E to residential PD right will apply subject to the following criteria:
- Vacancy requirement: the building will need to have been vacant for three months prior to the date of application;
- Size restriction: no more than 1,500 square metres of floorspace will be able to change use under the PD right; and
- Long use restriction: the building must have been in Class E (commercial, business and service) use for two years before benefiting from the right;
The legislation will bring forward this right from 1 August 2021 and will allow applicants to apply for a prior approval rather than a full planning application. The Local Planning Authority will consider the following aspects, providing the application also meets the criteria set out above:
- Impacts of noise from commercial premises
- Provision of adequate natural light to all habitable rooms
- In conservation areas only - consideration of the impact of the loss of the ground floor commercial, business and service use
- Impact of the loss of health centres and registered nurseries on the provision of such local services
We welcome the fact that the PD rights have taken into consideration some of the main issues which arose out of the consultation earlier this year. The ability to change the use of vacant commercial units will be a benefit to high streets across England which were already struggling in the pre-pandemic world.
The criteria for the right to create any residential developments will seek to ensure a suitable living environment is provided. Buildings which are converted will need to comply with space standards which were introduced to the GDPO last year and which have now come into effect (6 April 2021)
We will be interested to see how the long use restriction is applied to individual uses which now fall under Class E (which has only existed since September 2020) and where lawful implementation of a use has been stifled by lockdown rules preventing opening of businesses.
The press release has confirmed that where existing Article 4 directions are in place in respect of the change of use from offices to residential (under Class O) it will continue to have effect on equivalent development. It will be interesting to see whether Local Planning Authorities react to this by exploring new Article 4 opportunities to protect their high streets, or whether the criteria is indeed sufficient to capture and protect the essence of the high street without being lost to residential development.
Compatibility with adjoining uses will be an interesting one to watch. Whilst noise is a consideration as part of the prior approval application, impact on residents by way of odour has not been included. This would mean (providing the other criteria is met), a unit adjacent to a hot food takeaway (Sui Generis) could arguably be converted to a residential dwelling. This raises a question on whether planning applications for hot food takeaways elsewhere will be subject to less scrutiny by means of impact on amenity given the fall-back position of these new PD rights.
Notwithstanding the announcement of the new PD rights, we find it somewhat perplexing that the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee launched an inquiry into the approach to permitted development rights eight days before the Government announced these new PD changes (with submissions open until 30 April 2021). Will the outcome of this inquiry result in amendments to the PD rights published today or will this act as a future roadmap? Given that these rights will come into play from 1 August there won’t be much scope for making changes as a result of the ongoing inquiry.
Greater freedom has also been given to public service infrastructure and ports through amended permitted development rights. The full press release is available to view here.
For more information on the PD right changes, or to find out how this may affect your assets, please contact us.