Unprecedented amendments to planning permitted development rights for change of use from office to residential came into force last week. There are a number of conditions which must be met, including –

  • that the building must be in use or last used as B1(a) offices; and
  • that the change must take place before 30 May 2016.

The rights do not apply to –

  • listed buildings; or
  • exempted areas (some of which are significant e.g. the London Central Activity Zone).

An office of any size can benefit. However, if there are any current S. 106 or planning condition restrictions on use then express planning consent will still be required, as it will for any external works required for the new use. Prior approval may also be needed if the local planning authority is of the view that there may be traffic impacts or contamination or flood risks.

It remains to be seen how strictly Councils interpret the prior approvals requirement especially those who were not entirely happy with this dramatic change to their usual controls.

These provisions could have a huge impact on the housing (and indeed office) market, but without making any contribution to affordable housing quotas or mitigation payments or works (as these cannot be required in connection with permitted development) but the CIL may still apply. The changes could bring forward housing and regeneration in projects which would otherwise have been unviable.

Other planning changes include -

  • small flexible 'pop-up' uses for a single period of up to 2 years for properties in use for retail, financial services, restaurants, pubs, takeaways, offices, leisure and assembly uses which will be able to change to retail, financial services, restaurants and cafes and offices; and
  • the permitted development right to change from business (B1)/general industrial (B2) to storage and distribution (B8) (and vice versa) which has been extended to cover units up to 500m2 (from 235m2).

Developers should act promptly because there are a number of planning authorities who are planning on using Article 4 powers to remove some or all of these new permitted development rights.