The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) Order 2013 has brought in various new permitted development rights. These new rights came into force on 30 May 2013 and enable an increased range of development to take place without the need to apply for planning permission.

One of the most interesting of these new permitted development rights is the right to convert offices into homes. This is aimed at addressing the UK housing shortage by making use of office space that landlords are having difficulty in letting. However, there is concern that the conversions will result in too much office space being lost, pushing up commercial rental prices and damaging business growth. There is also concern that the conversions will fail to provide well-designed housing that is supported by appropriate local infrastructure. Although many authorities applied to be exempt from the office-conversion rights, only seventeen areas succeeded, ten of which are within London boroughs. The other seven exempt areas are within the Vale of the White Horse in Oxfordshire, Stevenage, Ashford, Sevenoaks, East Hampshire and Manchester.

The office conversion rights are temporary, expiring on 30 May 2016, and will only apply for premises that were being used as offices immediately before 30 May 2013 (or that were last used as offices before that date). This will prevent new developments securing planning permission for office use, only to be subsequently used for residential use. The conversion rights cannot be used for listed buildings.

Those wishing to make use of the right will have to apply to their local authority to determine whether the local authority’s prior approval is required in relation to impacts on transport and noise and to the risks of contamination or flooding. The local authority will consult on the application as appropriate and have 56 days from receipt of the application to complete the prior approval process. If the applicant is not notified of a decision within that time then they are free to go ahead with the conversion.