When the office becomes your home: extension of permitted development rights

30 Oct 2015

The Government recently announced a raft of changes to planning requirements as part of a package of initiatives to tackle the shortage of new homes. A key part of this announcement was that the temporary permitted development right, which enabled office buildings to be transformed into new homes without planning permission and was due to expire on 30 May 2016, is to be made permanent. In addition, the right is to be extended to include the demolition of office buildings to build new residential developments, and the change of use of light industrial units. Further details as to these extensions have yet to be announced.

The new permanent right will enable developers to add to the almost 4000 conversions which were actioned from April 2014 to June of this year under the temporary right. Whilst the permanent right won’t come into effect until 31 May 2016, the temporary right will continue until its original end date on the same terms. A party who has already had prior approval, or seeks to secure permission under the temporary right, will have three years to complete the change of use.

Ordinarily a material change of use of a property is classified as ‘development’ and therefore requires planning permission. There are already a number of exemptions to this requirement including the temporary right which removes the requirement for planning permission for a development from a use falling under Class B1(a) (offices) to a use falling under Class C3 (dwelling houses). It is this right that has become permanent and will now be stated as Class O. Class O has a number of exemptions where planning permission will still be required, including:

  • buildings which are on land within an exempted area;
  • buildings which were not used as an office on 29 May 2013 or when it was last used before that date;
  • listed buildings and buildings on a site of a scheduled monument; and
  • buildings which are on hazardous sites.

Some of the key exempted areas are:

  • the whole of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea;
  • the City of London;
  • the Royal Docks Enterprise Zone; and
  • the Southwark Central Activities Zone.

The exempted areas will expire in May 2019 unless the local authority which controls them applies to have the exemption extended.

The exemption relating to the building’s use as an office on a certain date prevents developers from circumventing existing residential planning requirements by gaining planning permission to build offices and then ‘converting’ them to dwelling houses once constructed.

Development is permitted under Class O if the developer applies to the Local Planning Authority for a determination as to whether prior approval is required as to:

  1. transport and highways impacts of the development;
  2. contamination risks on the site; and
  3. flooding risks on the site.

Whilst the permitted right is unlikely to make a significant impact in addressing the shortage of housing development, the fact that the right has been made permanent gives welcome certainty to developers and should help address the issue of underused commercial buildings in areas of high residential demand. The continued significant reduction in pre-development planning fees and red-tape alone should surely be good news to those who plan to embark on such developments.

Additional information