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15 Mar
Flexible Offices

Changes to Permitted Development Rights

This week the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) published amendments to permitted development (PD) rights, primarily designed to deliver new housing.  The new legislation can be viewed here

The amendments are largely positive, but some of the legislative tinkering may add confusion to the already complex system.

It will be interesting to see whether the changes speed up the process or whether the additional criteria for Prior Approval application will be a hindrance…

The changes

In terms of delivering new housing, the changes include:

  • Making permanent the existing office (B1(a)) to residential (C3) permitted development right which was due to expire in May this year;
  • Introduction, from 1st October 2017, of change of use from light industrial (B1(c)) use to residential use (which builds on the existing industrial to residential PD rights);
  • Introducing a PD right for the change of use of a laundrette to residential;
  • Amendments to the Prior Approval process for securing consent for the change of use by introducing a fourth matter for consideration, that of noise sensitivity;
  • Requiring the change of use to be implemented within three years of the grant of Prior Approval;
  • Other consequential changes to the Prior Approval process.

The headline: Office to residential change of use made permanent

The headline change is, as expected, that the current temporary permitted development rights for the change of use from office to residential will be made permanent on 6th April 2016.   This is welcome news to developers, some of whom have been unable to commence schemes until this change had been confirmed.

However, the permanent change was not without surprises, the previously mentioned inclusion of the demolition of offices to facilitate residential development has seemingly been omitted.

Additionally, the revised legislation now includes a requirement for consents secured through these PD rights to be implemented within three years, bringing the legislation in line with standard planning permission timescales.

Additional application considerations

The new legislation includes a fourth consideration for the necessary Prior Approval applications – the potential noise impact from commercial uses on the new homes.  The additional ‘noise’ consideration (which sits alongside existing highways, contamination and flood risk considerations) will potentially add to the complexity of what is supposed to be a more streamlined process.

Additionally, applicants will now also be required to confirm the number of flats proposed.  Whether this is to avoid open ended consents, or is more of a monitoring process, will become clearer over time.

Areas where the change is not applicable

There is no change (or introduction of new rights) in respect of buildings within those areas where the change of use is already restricted (such as Westminster and areas of Manchester City Centre).

However, the current ‘exemption areas’ will expire in 2019. Therefore, by 2019, those councils wishing to restrict the change of use will need to apply to the Secretary of State for a ‘Direction’ and given the potentially lengthy timescales for obtaining a Direction a number of councils are likely to move sooner rather than later.

The impact of the changes

We previously reviewed the uptake of the office to residential route, concluding the changes had a limited effect in Greater Manchester.  Only a handful of new homes were developed in the first 12 months of the legislation coming in to force in 2013.

The changes seem to have proved more popular elsewhere in the Northern Powerhouse (for example, in Leeds, with approximately 120 applications since 2013), but figures are still significantly lower than the London Boroughs.

Clearly, changes in land values (along with shifts in investment patterns, market demand and land supply) will alter developer expectations for a particular site.

However, the introduction of a permanent PD right for the office to residential conversion may release a number of schemes which were being held back due to uncertainty with the legislation (as noted above, the existing legislation was due to expire in May 2016).  Banks which may have been reluctant to lend to facilitate such developments previously are now likely to be willing.

As for the changes to the process for securing the change of use consent, time will tell how they are interpreted by the development community and local authorities. If our experience with the current legislation is anything to go by, we expect to see legal commentary on the matter in the near future.

Overall, the certainty provided by the permanent legislation is welcomed.  However, it will be interesting to see how some of the seemingly minor changes (to the application process) play out.

If you wish to discuss your development proposals with us and would like to know more about the amended permitted development rights, please contact us.


Images sourced from:

'Flexible Offices' by Chris Reed via flickr

'Houses' by Nico Dusing via flickr

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