Permitted development rights that allow offices to be converted into residential use without the need for planning permission have been made permanent.

In 2013 the Department for Communities and Local Government introduced a temporary right to change the use of buildings from offices to residential without the need for planning permission. An opt out for Local Planning Authorities was made available, and was sought by a number of London Boroughs for example.

The measure, introduced as Class O to Part 3 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development)(England) Order 2015, was designed to make better use of existing underused office buildings and boost housing supply. The permitted development right proved popular with applicants, with almost 4000 conversions taking place between April 2014 and June 2015.

The temporary right was due to expire on 30 May 2016, meaning that the residential use had to be begun by that date. However, amendment Regulations have removed this drop dead date from Class O. Instead, the ability to change from office use to residential without the need for planning permission is now permanent, albeit like most such rights, there are a series of limitations and restrictions. The key ones are that:

  • If wishing to use the right before 30 May 2019, the building must not be on 'article 2(5)' land - namely land in those boroughs that obtained an opt out. This is designed to give those boroughs time to re-apply for an opt out.
  • If the building was not in office use on 29 May 2013, or was not in office use the last time it was used, the right cannot be employed.
  • Buildings in safety hazard areas or military explosives storage areas are excluded.
  • Listed buildings and their curtilages, and buildings that share a site with scheduled monuments are also excluded.

To make use of the right, an application must be made to the planning authority to determine whether their prior approval is needed. This is a relatively short form process during which the authority will consider whether any matters of highways, contamination risks, flood risk, or noise impacts on intended occupiers need more detailed analysis. If yes, then prior approval will be needed. If no, the applicant can proceed. The authority has 56 days to issue or refuse prior approval. If it fails to issue a decision then approval is deemed to be granted after this time.

Once prior approval is obtained (or the planning authority confirms it is not needed) the change of use must be completed within 3 years of that date.