It's "office"ial! Office to resi permitted development rights here to stay

It's "office"ial! Office to resi permitted development rights here to stay
The government has recently confirmed that certain permitted development rights (PDRs) enabling offices to be converted into new homes - originally intended to be a temporary measure - will now be made permanent, with further PDRs to follow.
This will be a welcome announcement for developers who no longer need to complete such conversions by May 2016, but may result in additional work - without fees - for local planning authorities (LPAs).

What changes have been announced?

Housing and Planning Minister Brandon Lewis has announced new measures that will make it easier to turn underused office buildings into new homes, namely:

  • to make permanent, temporary permitted development rights to enable offices to be converted to new homes without having to apply for planning permission. The temporary rights were introduced in May 2013 and were set to expire on 30 May 2016
  • those who already have permission to convert offices into residential will have three years in which to complete the change of use
  • in future, to allow the demolition of office buildings and new building for residential use, subject to limitations and prior approval by the LPA
  • to introduce new permitted development rights to enable the change of use of light industrial buildings and launderettes to new homes, subject to prior approval by the LPA

Why are the changes being made?

The government's key aims  are to boost house-building, make the best use of existing buildings, including some that are underused and neglected, and protect the green belt.

What does this mean for developers?

Increased certainty

Under the temporary right, developers who failed to complete any unfinished conversions and get them occupied by May 2016 would have been in breach of the conditions attached to it, leaving them at risk of enforcement. Developers will undoubtedly welcome the change in status of the PDR from temporary to permanent.

Obtaining "prior approval" for qualifying developments

Developers will still need to apply for "prior approval" from the LPA, to confirm that specified elements of any qualifying development are acceptable before work can proceed.

The process is essentially comprised of:

  • submitting information to the LPA;
  • the notification of consultees, followed by a consultation period; and
  • consideration of any objections (if objections are raised, this can of course delay the approval).

Nevertheless, the statutory requirements relating to prior approval are still much less prescriptive than those relating to planning applications.

What are the implications for LPAs?

Planning departments have to prioritise applications for prior approval, even though they do not receive a fee for them. This is because if the application is not considered within six weeks, it is deemed to have been approved.

Under the rules for the householder extension permitted development right, LPAs must notify neighbours of applications for prior approval. Where objections are made, LPAs must decide whether the impact on the amenity of all adjoining properties is acceptable.

There are areas in 17 LPAs in England that are currently exempt from the rights, mainly in London. These exemptions will remain in place until May 2019, providing time for the LPAs to consider making an Article 4 direction to remove the rights and require a planning application for any proposed change of use.

What are the potential disadvantages of the permanent rights?

The government was initially reluctant to extend the permitted developments rights .

In an explanatory note, it stated that the consultation revealed concern on the future availability of business premises, the impact on surrounding businesses and the quality of the new dwellings.

However, it appears that ultimately, the political drive to boost housing numbers outweighed these concerns.


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About the author:

Jen is a solicitor specialising in planning law. She has experience in relation to a range of planning topics, including environmental impact assessment, section 106 agreements, highways orders, compulsory purchase, freedom of information issues, inquiries, judicial review, the Localism Act 2011, the National Planning Policy Framework and major infrastructure projects. After qualifying at Ashurst, Jen worked at Bevan Brittan and subsequently at CMS Cameron McKenna as an associate in the planning team. She worked as an external author for LexisPSL before joining the team in November 2010. She has written for a variety of legal publications, including the New Law Journal, Utilities Week, Planning Resource and The Lawyer. Jen regularly appears on Talking Law videocasts providing legal updates on planning law.