As part of a wider package of Government measures to address the housing crisis the Housing and Planning Minister Brandon Lewis has announced (13 October 2015) that permitted development rights that enable offices to be converted in to residential dwellings will be extended. The temporary measures were introduced in 2013 and were due to expire on 30 May 2016.

The Minister made clear that the new permitted development rights will also allow the demolition of office buildings and new buildings for residential use as well as enabling the change of use of light industrial buildings and laundrettes to new homes. Furthermore, those who already have permission will have three years in which to complete the conversion that will end the “potential uncertainty for developers” caused by the current regime.

The rights will, however, be subject to limitations and prior approval by the Local Planning Authority, full details of which are yet to be provided.

For local authorities who secured exemptions from the current permitted development rights, they will have an opportunity up until May 2019 to make an Article 4 direction should they wish to continue to consider planning applications for change of use. Exemptions are in place within 17 local authorities in England including: the City of London; the London Central Activities Zone; areas in the borough of Stevenage and Ashford Councils; areas in the districts of Sevenoaks and East Hampshire and Manchester City Centre.

The Government considers that these changes will support the drive to deliver new housing through unlocking the potential of underused buildings whilst at the same time continuing the protection given to the greenbelt.

The Government has also published its Housing and Planning Bill (13 October 2015) which includes measures including a new duty to deliver starter homes on reasonably sized development sites, a new power to put in place Local Plans by 2017 and an automatic planning permission in principle on brownfield sites. It remains to be seen whether these measures will themselves be sufficient to secure delivery of the quantum of new housing required to solve the housing crisis or whether a consensus will be reached that further steps will be necessary, in particular the selective release of greenbelt areas for sustainable development to address historic under delivery of housing in areas of greatest housing need.