Last week, new Permitted Development rules, set out in the Town and Country
Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (England) Order 2013, come
into effect which will enable, amongst other provisions, the change of use from
offices B1(a) to residential (C3) without the need to obtain planning
The purpose of the changes is to allow the conversion of ‘underused’ and
‘outdated’ office buildings to create houses for local residents. The Government
also hopes that the changes will create new jobs, regenerate town centres and
former commercial areas, and increase the vitality of town centres.
In order to be classified as Permitted Development under Class J of the Order, the office building must have been in B1 (a) use before 30th May 2013 or if immediately vacant it must have been used for offices as its last use. The permitted development also only applies to internal works undertaken within 3 years.
All proposed changes will be subject to a ‘tightly drawn’ prior approval
a) Transport and highways impacts;
b) Contamination risks; and
c) Flooding risks.
This process will require the developer to submit a ‘prior approval’
application, together with any fee required to be paid, comprising a written
description of the proposed development, a site plan, and the developers contact
Should the LPA consider that the proposed change of use would have a
material impact on highways or flood risk they can consult with the appropriate
statutory consultee (i.e. Local Highways Authority/ Environment Agency). The LPA
can also request that additional information is submitted regarding highways,
contamination and flood impacts “as may be reasonably required” in order to
determine the application. Additional information required may include
impact statements, including mitigation measures, as appropriate.
In terms of timescales the LPA must provide notification as to whether prior
approval is given or refused within a period of 56 days following which time the
developer may commence works regardless.
The Permitted Development changes will not apply to Listed Buildings or
buildings located within Local Authority areas exempt from the changes.
On 9th May the Government published a list of 17 Local Authorities which had
secured an exemption from the changes having demonstrated that the Permitted
Development rights would lead to “loss of nationally significant areas of
economic activity” or “substantial adverse economic consequences at the Local
Authority Level which are not offset by the positive benefits the new rights
Manchester City Council secured the only exemption outside of the south for
two separate areas within the City Centre Core with a combined area of
On the face of it the Permitted Development amendments appear to be a
positive step aimed at reducing planning ‘red tape’ and encouraging the reuse of
redundant office buildings.
Indeed, for developers needing to make only minor internal alterations to
existing buildings the new permitted development should be positively welcomed
as the financial implications of conversion will be greatly reduced. Of
particular note is that the permitted change of use would not be subject to
Development Plan Policies and no conditions can be imposed by the LPA. Moreover
there would be no requirement for s106 obligations, namely affordable housing
contributions, although conversions may still be liable to pay Community
Infrastructure Levy. The changes could therefore facilitate developments which
were not previously viable.
In addition the benefit of these changes may also be felt in rural areas
where a proportion of offices are housed in converted former agricultural
buildings. Within these areas there is a marked difference between commercial
and residential property values which could provide opportunities for higher
However it is considered that these benefits could be of limited benefit for
two principal reasons.
The prior approval process may prove to be challenging to negotiate despite
the Government stating its intention to limit opportunities for LPA’s to slow
the process. This may be especially true in areas where there is strong
opposition to the conversion of office buildings.
The second key issue is that the majority of residential conversions will
require some degree of external alterations to meet Building Regulation
standards which would require a planning application to be submitted.
In any event given these challenges it is likely that the uptake of the
amended permitted development rights may be limited although for developers who
are in a position to implement the changes the financial gains could be
For further information, please contact Chris Sinton or your usual HOW
T: 0161 831 5872