A new permitted development right came into force on 1 October 2017. The new right (Class PA) allows owners to change light industrial units to residential dwellings without planning permission.

1 October 2017 is an important date to note for any owners or occupiers of light industrial units.

A new permitted development right – first introduced in the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) Order 2016 – came into force on that date allowing a change of use of light industrial units to residential dwellings to take place without the need to apply for planning permission.

The new right (Class PA) allows the change of use of a building and any land within its curtilage from a use within Class B1(c) (light industrial) to a use falling within Class C3 (dwelling houses). This is subject to the following exceptions where the right cannot be exercised:

  • The application was submitted prior to 30 September 2017.
  • The building was not used solely for light industrial use on 19 March 2014 or when it was last in use before that date.
  • The gross floor space exceeds 500m2.
  • The site is or forms part of a site of special scientific interest, a safety hazard area, a military explosives storage area, is or contains a scheduled ancient monument or the building is listed or within the curtilage of a listed building.
  • The site is subject to an agricultural tenancy and the landlord and tenant have not consented or was subject to an agricultural tenancy which was terminated to exercise the Class PA right and the landlord and tenant have not agreed that the site is no longer required for agricultural purposes. Although the new right is aimed at buildings in light industrial use in the traditional sense, it is clear from this exception that in some cases, such buildings will form part of agricultural holdings.

Are there any limitations to be aware of?

Quite a few! An application for prior approval needs to be made to the local authority and secured before 1 October 2020 as the right is temporary. Prior approval is required in respect of:

  • the transport and highways impacts of the development and contamination and flooding risks
  • whether the introduction of, or increase in the residential use of premises in the area would have an adverse impact on the sustainability of the provision of industrial services if the building is located in an area considered important for providing such services.

The application needs to be accompanied by a statement setting out evidence of how the building was used for light industrial purposes on the relevant date.

If prior approval is granted, the change of use must be completed within 3 years of that date. The prior approval authorises the change of use, but does not extend to any building or engineering works that may be required to enable the change of use to occur. A separate planning application in respect of such works would therefore be required, which introduces another level of management of such conversions.

Does it apply everywhere?

No. A number of local authorities have secured Article 4 Directions which remove the Class PA rights from applying either across their whole administrative area or within specified strategically important employment zones.

The London Boroughs of Waltham Forest and Hackney have secured Borough wide directions coming into force on 21 November 2017 and 1 May 2018 and Islington, Kensington & Chelsea, Southwark, Brent, Hounslow, Camden and Hillingdon are also expecting directions to come into force on a range of dates from November 2017 to August 2018 in relation to identified locations which are considered significant for industrial purposes.

Outside London, Crawley, Stevenage and St Albans are also expecting directions to come into force and it is likely that further authorities will seek to do the same. This process clearly waters down the wide ranging effect of the new right, but ensures that key industrial stock is not lost and that new housing is not promoted in inappropriate locations.

Is it likely to be controversial?

Given the number of article 4 directions that have already been applied for, it is evident that there is concern about the impact of Class PA. The process of securing prior approval is likely to lead to appeals against refusals and potential court challenges as has been the case with Class O and Q rights which permit the change of use of office and agricultural buildings to dwelling houses. It will also be interesting to see if the Government follows the same approach with Class PA as it did with Class O, which was introduced as a temporary 3 year right, and has now been made permanent.