If you want to change the use of a property, you will often require planning permission to do so. However, the planning system permits certain changes of use without permission. The Government has announced some additional relaxation in the planning system in England to enable more changes of use to take place without permission. The changes will not apply to properties in Wales.
The regulations have not yet been published, but the Government has announced that from spring 2013 (for a period of three years), changes of use from office use (class B1(a)) to residential use (class C3) will be permitted without the need for planning permission. The Government hopes that this will encourage developers to bring underused offices back into effective use as houses for local residents. The permitted change of use will not be automatic. Anyone wanting to change from office to residential use will have to satisfy conditions if there will be significant transport and highway impacts or if the change of use takes place in a safety hazard zone, an area of high flood risk or an area where there is land contamination.
The Government is allowing local authorities to seek an exemption from these new permitted development rights for specific parts of their locality, but this will only be granted in exceptional circumstances. Applications for exemption had to be submitted by 22 February. The City of London Corporation is one local authority that has applied for an exemption.
Other changes will allow agricultural buildings to convert to a range of other uses, but excluding residential dwellings. There will be a size restriction and, for conversions above a set size, a prior approval process will be put in place to guard against unacceptable impacts, such as transport and noise.
Finally, to create opportunities for new and start-up businesses and help retain the viability and vitality of town centres, the planning system will allow a range of buildings to convert temporarily to a set of alternative uses including shops (A1), financial and professional services (A2), restaurants and cafes (A3) and offices (B1) for up to two years.
Note, however, that even if planning permission is not required for the change of use, it will still be required for any external works to the property, and building regulations approvals will still be needed.