Over the last year, local authorities across London have sought changes to provide additional protection to retail premises by way of the removal of permitted development rights and the introduction of special policy areas. This article explores these and the effect they have in practice on future changes of use of retail premises within the affected areas.

Removal of permitted development rights

Permitted development (PD) rights remove the need to apply for planning permission for certain classes of works and changes of use. In April 2015, a new PD right was introduced which allowed the change of use of shops and retail outlets (A1) to financial institutions (A2). Since then, a number of London Boroughs have sought Article 4 Directions, which have the effect of removing the benefit of this PD right from properties within their administrative areas. To date, this has come into force on 1 January 2017 in Westminster, 1 April 2017 in Richmond, 26 May 2017 in Islington and is due to come into force on 23 August 2017 in Wandsworth.

The purpose of this change is to seek to preserve retail uses and ensure that planning permission is required prior to any changes of use taking place. However, although the process will not be as straightforward, this does not mean that changes of use will not take place – if they are carefully planned, applications which demonstrate a need for the change with limited detrimental effects on the local area may still be deemed acceptable by planning authorities. If you are considering such a change of use, it would be prudent to check whether an Article 4 direction is in place, as it may well be that more authorities apply for these in the coming months.

Special policy areas

Special policy areas (SPAs) are areas which authorities seek to protect by encouraging specialist uses. They tend to be areas recognised for special local distinctiveness relating to land uses. They are shown on policy maps and any development taking place within them must accord with the local plan and core strategy policy.

In November 2016, Westminster City Council reviewed its local plan and introduced five new SPAs:

  • Harley Street in relation to medical facilities and residential use.
  • Saville Row in relation to bespoke tailoring.
  • Portland Place relating to institutional uses such as embassies.
  • St James in relation to private members clubs, art galleries and niche luxury and specialist retail.
  • Mayfair in relation to art galleries and antique traders and niche retail use.

The City Management Plan contains detailed policies to protect these areas. Of particular interest are the policies relating to the retail areas. In respect of the Savile Row SPA, existing bespoke tailoring uses will be protected, new bespoke tailoring will be allowed particularly at basement and ground floor levels and secured by legal agreements and new A1 retail will only be permitted at ground, lower ground and first floors by legal agreement where no bespoke tailoring is lost, units are no larger than 300m2, retail is bespoke and the function is complementary to the character and function of the SPA.

Land use swaps will only be allowed where there is no net loss of tailoring floor space and the accommodation offered provides higher quality space. In the St James and Mayfair SPAs, new retail uses will be encouraged where the items or services are bespoke, unique, antique or limited edition.

One point to note is that these policies will be taken into account when a planning application has been submitted, but the policy background will not be relevant in the case of the exercise of PD rights. It will therefore be necessary to check whether there are any other restrictions in place (for example other Article 4 directions) which restrict these.

Comment

As can be seen from the increasing number of Article 4 directions coming into force removing the retail to financial change of use, offering protection to retail premises is certainly high on the agenda for London Boroughs. Westminster's recent introduction of SPAs which offer further policy safeguards to niche retail uses may well be taken on board by other authorities reviewing their local plans. This is an area to keep monitoring as it is likely that further changes will take place both in terms of strengthening policy protection and the removal of PD rights.