Permitted Development Rights for Class E to Residential Given the Green Light

Legislation Update
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Following consultation in December 2020, the Government has confirmed on 31 March 2021 that a new permitted development (PD) right to allow the change of use in England from any use, or mix of uses, from the Commercial, Business and Service use class (Class E) to residential use (Class C3) will be introduced under Class MA of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development etc.) (England) Order 2021.

There has been a particular government focus on revitalising the high street of late, and the provision of homes continues to be a hot topic.  Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said the measures, which will now be brought in much sooner than expected, “will help high streets to adapt and thrive”.  The government considers that the announced package of measures will help support the creation of much-needed homes while also giving high streets a new lease of life – removing eyesores, transforming unused buildings and making the most of brownfield land.

The new PD rights, which take effect on 1 August 2021, will allow unused commercial buildings to be granted permission for residential use via a fast track prior approval process.  Councils will only be able to assess prior approval applications on specific considerations including: flooding, noise from commercial premises and adequate light to habitable rooms.  Other site specific issues that Councils can take into consideration include: the impact of the loss of a health service and in conservation areas the impact of the loss of a ground floor Class E use.  The PD rights will apply in Conservation Area but not on other protected land designated as Article 2(3) such as Listed Buildings, National Parks or Areas Of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The PD rights will include a vacancy requirement that will ensure the building changing use has been vacant for 3 months before the date of the application to protect successful businesses in existing use. The building must also have been in a commercial, business, or service use for at least two continuous years previously. A size limit of 1,500 square metres of floorspace will also apply, to avoid the loss of larger units. These limitations weren’t proposed by the government within the original December consultation.

The PD rights apply to all uses within Class E.  As a reminder, Class E covers a range of uses including retail, restaurants, professional services, offices, gyms, surgeries, nurseries and a host of other high street uses. This could greatly expand the range of premises granted a right to convert to residential, as compared with the existing limited office to residential PD rights.

The Government have made it very clear that where there are existing Article 4 directions as on 31 July 2021 in respect of the office to residential PD rights they will continue to be in effect on any equivalent development in respect of offices until 31 July 2022.

Jenrick said the moves will create “the most small business friendly planning system in the world” and “provide the flexibility needed for high streets to bounce back from the pandemic”.

The proposed package also introduces a new fast track process for the extension of public service buildings.  The new rules will allow for larger extensions to service buildings such as schools, universities and hospitals providing additional classroom and hospital spaces, as well as amendments of the existing permitted development rights for ports and the protection of unlisted statues, memorials and monuments.

The measures announced support a series of other measures previously announced by the government including relaxation of planning rules allowing pubs and restaurants to operate as takeaways, the erection of outdoor marquees, longer opening hours for retail units and temporary pavement licences.

If you have a query on the above new permitted development rights and the prior approval process, please contact one of the Firstplan team.