After months of ‘will they, won’t they’, the government recently confirmed the permanence of office to residential permitted development rights that had been introduced only a temporary basis in May 2013. This short note highlights some of the points to note in respect of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England)  (Amendment) Order 2016, which was the mechanism through which such rights gained permanence and was laid before Parliament on 11 March 2016 before coming into force on 6 April 2016.

Class O permits the change of use of a building and any land within its curtilage from a use falling within B1(a) (Office) to a use falling within C3 (Residential). It is subject to various restrictions, qualifications and conditions. Under the temporary regime, Class O was subject to a requirement to make a Prior Approval application only in respect of transport and highways impacts, contamination risks on the site and flooding risks. Paragraph W in Schedule 2, Part 3 of the GPDO sets out the requirements for such an application and the manner in which such an application is to be processed.

  • The most noteworthy of the recent revisions is the addition of the “impacts of noise from commercial premises on the intended occupiers of the development” as a matter for the Prior Approval of the authority (by virtue of the substitution of a revised paragraph O.2). This addition may be seen by some as a logical extension of what has been described as the apparent development of an ‘agent of change’ doctrine in a planning context.
  • Development under Class O is now permitted subject to the condition that it must be completed “within a period of 3 years starting with the prior approval date”, meaning that prospective developers will be required to ‘use it or lose it’.
  • Further to the above, the Amendment Order also removed the exemption of certain areas from the office to residential right with effect from 31 May 2019. This will allow local authorities for exempted areas to utilise article 4 directions in order to remove the rights.
  • Despite it having been announced on 13 October 2015 that the office to residential right was to be extended to allow the demolition of office buildings, other operational development and new building for residential use, the Amendment Order takes no steps in this regard. However, it has been reported that the same still features on the government’s ‘to do’ list and so it will be necessary to keep an eye on future announcements and developments in this regard, possibly as part of the progression of the Housing and Planning Bill.