News | September 23, 2021


Since the last edition, owners of buildings within a diverse range of business, commercial and services uses may now benefit fully from the new ‘Class MA’ permitted development right to change from use class E to residential use.  Whilst the necessary amendments to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 (“the GPDO”) came into force on 21 April this year, the ability to submit applications for prior approval (which will often be required to change use under Class MA) only became possible from 1 August.

Since 1 August, the ‘old’ GPDO Class O permitted development rights to change from office to residential use are no longer available for new applications, although those rights may still be enjoyed where an application for prior approval was submitted on or before 31 July.

As we explained in a previous article, the new use class E comprises a very broad range of uses including shops, offices, restaurants and health centres, so changes to residential use under the new Class MA apply to a much wider spectrum of existing uses than the old Class O rights. 

However, the freedoms initially proposed by the Government have not been fully realised in the legislation and there are some significant restrictions on the application of Class MA that didn’t apply to the old Class O rights, including:

  • the building must have been continually vacant for at least three months immediately prior to the date of the prior approval application;
  • the building must have been continually in at least one of the specified business, commercial and service uses for at least two years prior to the date of the prior approval application;
  • the cumulative floor space of the existing building changing use cannot exceed 1,500 square metres.

As with a number of other permitted development rights, Class MA does not apply in protected areas like National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the rights cannot be enjoyed if the building is listed.  However, they do apply in conservation areas.

The availability of the Class MA rights may be further curtailed by ‘Article 4 Directions’ that remove permitted development rights.  Article 4 Directions that prevent a change of use under the old GPDO Class O will continue to apply until 1 August 2022 in relation to the Class MA rights, so the change of use under Class MA will not be possible in areas where an existing Article 4 Direction applies.  The 1 August 2022 deadline was sufficient to allow local authorities time to make further Article 4 Directions to restrict the use of Class MA rights after 1 August 2022, so beware of further Directions too.

A few further points to note include: Community Infrastructure Levy may be payable as the change of use would comprise ‘development’ for the purposes of the CIL Regulations; no dwelling can be below the nationally described space standards (which could be as low as 37 square metres for a 1-bed flat), and a fee of £100 per dwelling is payable.

Before changing use under Class MA, an application must be made for determination as to whether prior approval of certain matters is required, including transport impacts and site access, contamination and flood risks, any impacts of noise from commercial premises upon the future residential occupiers, the impact of the change of use on the character or sustainability of a conservation area (where the building is located in one and would include a change of use at ground floor level), and provision of adequate internal light in habitable rooms.  If required, an application for prior approval of the relevant matters must then be made.

A requirement to notify adjoining owners and occupiers has been introduced and, where the proposed development relates to part of a building, any owner or occupier of the other parts of the building must also be notified. 

As before, the change of use must be completed within three years of the ‘prior approval date’, which will be either the date of confirmation that prior approval is not required or the date of the decision notice granting prior approval (where required).

We wait to see how popular the new permitted development rights will be given the constraints on their application, and whether local authorities will have the resources to deal with prior approval applications in the statutory 56 day period (deemed approval being the risk to them if they do not).

Key points:

  • Recent changes widen the scope of permitted changes to residential use…
  • …but check the conditions as the changes do not provide the flexibility originally proposed.
  • Allow time for the prior approval process and notify the right people.
  • Check if Article 4 Directions may apply.
  • Ensure that the development is completed within three years.