The planning use class system and permitted development rights allow the change of use of buildings without the need for planning permission in a number of circumstances. The former coalition government introduced a range of new change of use permitted development rights at the end of the last Parliament.

None of the changes attracted more controversy than the permitted development right for change of use from offices (B1(a)) to residential use (C3), subject to local authority prior approval of certain limited matters. Importantly the right is time limited (and currently still is until amending regulations are brought forward and implemented). This means that the use of the building approved under the prior approval will in practice need to be "begun" by 30 May 2016, because any use begun after that date will not be permitted (read our previous briefing on this change here).

The former coalition government’s Technical Consultation on Planning closed on 29 September 2014. It had included a proposal that the temporary office to residential permitted development right should be made permanent. But, when the Chancellor set out the reforms for the planning system in July 2015, the policy paper 'Fixing the Foundations' was silent on this. It was not until 13 October 2015 (the same day that the Housing and Planning Bill was published) that a joint press release by DCLG and Brandon Lewis MP (for Housing and Planning) confirmed that this right would be put on a permanent footing.

The press release states that where offices have already received prior approval for residential conversion they will have three years in which to complete the conversion. It is expected that all office conversions under Class O will be subject to a three-year completion condition in the future.

Those areas that are currently exempt from the office to residential permitted development right would have until May 2019 to make an Article 4 direction if they wish to continue determining planning applications for the change of use.

Regulations will be needed

An amendment order will be required to make the necessary changes to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015.

The press release states that the new permitted development right will allow office buildings to be demolished and replaced with new buildings for residential use. It states that further details will be provided in due course.

What the press release does not cover is the application of the community infrastructure levy (CIL) to the new rights. The regulations implementing CIL make provision that where part of an existing building has been in lawful use for a continuous period of 6 months within the past three years, parts of that building that are to be demolished or retained can be taken into account in the calculation and reduction of the CIL liability for the proposed new development. In each case this will be a matter for the collecting authority to assess.

Additionally, the press release states that there would be new permitted development rights to enable a change of use to residential from light industrial buildings within use class B1 and launderettes (still a sui generis use).

Regulations to bring all of these changes into force will be needed, but to date none have been published. We anticipate that the government would aim to have these in place by early next year, and before the temporary right is due to expire on 30 May 2016.

Whilst maintaining the exempted area protections until 2019 will limit opportunities for conversions to residential use in the City of London and surrounding boroughs, the government's proposal to sell some of the old Victorian prisons may off-set this. It is reported that under consideration are Wandsworth and Brixton prisons, and outside of London Horfield prison in Bristol (HMP Bristol).

The details are awaited with interest!