Planning ahead: Permanent rights to change from office to residential use

21 / 04 / 2016

Long-awaited amendments to permitted development rights to change from office to residential use without planning permission have now been made – the amendments to the Town and Country Planning(General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 came into force on 6 April. As expected, the permitted development rights have been made permanent, so the previous cut-off date of 30 May this year will no longer apply.

A conspicuous absence from the amended rights is the ability to demolish office buildings and replace them with new-build residential units, although the Government is still considering introducing the right to demolish – this may happen once the Housing and Planning Bill has become law and enables all of the proposed changes to be made. Those further amendments will no doubt be complicated to draft and they are likely to come with a number of conditions attached, which may be another reason for the delay.

Developers will still have to apply to the local planning authority for a determination as to whether prior approval of certain matters is first
required. Whilst the prior approval process has not become particularly more stringent, the existing list of matters that may require prior approval (namely transport and highways impacts, contamination and flooding risks) has been extended so that impacts of noise from commercial premises on intended occupants of the development will now have to be considered.

The effect is that noise mitigation measures may be required in certain locations, for example where there are adjoining pubs or nightclubs.
Developers will also have to supply a statement to the local planning authority specifying the net increase in the number of residential units proposed by the development.This does not apply to applications made before 5 April this year.

From the date that the local planning authority either determines that prior approval is not required, or issues prior approval in cases where
it is required (the “prior approval date”) developers will have three years to undertake the necessary works and change to residential use.

The previous confusion about the extent of the change to residential use that needs to occur before the deadline to benefit from the permitted development rights has now been resolved; the development will have to be completed within three years of the prior approval date.

A number of local planning authorities have exemptions in place so that the permitted development rights do not apply in part or all of their area – these exemptions will continue until the end of May 2019 and those authorities will have to make further ‘Article 4’ directions before then in order for an exemption to apply after that date.

It is now also possible to change launderettes to residential use under permitted developments rights and there is a new temporary right to change a building in light industrial use to residential use (subject to certain conditions).