In July 2014, as part of its Red tape Challenge initiative to reduce the regulatory burden on businesses, the Government published a consultation document entitled “Technical Consultation on Planning”. The consultation contains proposals on the following subjects:

  • Neighbourhood planning 
  • Reducing planning regulations to support housing, high streets and growth
  • Improving the use of planning conditions
  • Planning application process improvements
  • Environmental Impact Assessment Thresholds
  • Improving the nationally significant infrastructure planning regime

The closing date for comments on the proposals in the document is 26 September 2014. This note is the first in a series and focuses on the proposals under the second bullet point above – reducing planning regulations to support housing, high streets and growth – as we consider these are likely to have the greatest impact on businesses generally.

Transforming the face of the High Street

The consultation contains three important new rights to change uses within the wider retail “A” use classes as follows:

Firstly, the consultation proposes to expand the existing use class A1 (shops) to incorporate most of the uses in use class A2 (financial services), which would enable changes of use to be freely made between shops, banks, building societies and estate agents. Betting offices and pay day lenders are proposed to remain within use class A2 and all permitted development rights to change a use to A2 are proposed to be removed so that planning permission will always be required to change a use to a betting office or a pay day lender. However the right to change from A2 to A1 will be retained.

Secondly, the consultation proposes to allow changes of use from premises in A1 or A2 use, laundrettes, amusement arcades/centres, casinos and nightclubs to use as restaurants or cafes (use class A3). This right is subject to a size limit of 150 square metres (so as to focus on smaller premises) and would be subject to a prior approval procedure whereby the local authority can refuse permission on the basis of local amenity, covering issues such as noise, odours, traffic and hours of opening (the local planning authority will be able to consider such matters under prior approval only when immediate neighbours object). Authorities will also be able to refuse where they consider that the loss of the premises from retail would have an adverse impact on the shopping area.

Thirdly, a new permitted development right is proposed to allow change of use of A1 or A2, laundrettes, amusement arcades/ centres and nightclubs to leisure uses within use class D2 (cinemas, music and concert halls, bingo and dance halls (but not night clubs), swimming baths, skating rinks, gymnasiums or area for indoor or outdoor sports and recreations (except for motor sports, or where firearms are used)). The right would have no floorspace limit but would be subject to a prior approval procedure enabling local authorities to refuse approval on the basis of transport and highways, parking, and noise. Similar exclusions apply as apply to existing prior approval permitted development rights, such as office to residential. 

Other proposals relating to retail uses include:

  1. that premises in use as shops should benefit from the right to put up ancillary buildings up to 4 metres high and with a floorspace limit of 20 square metres and the right to extend existing loading bays by up to 20%.
  2. that the 200 square metre limit on mezzanine floors within existing buildings should be relaxed. Suggestions are invited as to what, if anything, that limit should be.
  3. that parking policy should be amended to prevent local planning authorities from imposing maximum parking standards so that adequate parking can be provided to encourage potential customers to travel to town centres. 

Proposals affecting Business Uses

Regulations were introduced in May 2013 which included a new right, subject to a prior approval procedure, to change office buildings (use class B1(a)) to residential (use class C3), limited to a three year period (see our previous briefing on the subject). The consultation proposes making this right permanent and expanding it such that light industrial buildings (B1(c)), warehouses (B8) and certain sui generis uses (ones not within a use class – launderettes, amusement arcades/centres, casinos and nightclubs) can be converted to residential accommodation. These rights would be subject to the same prior approval procedures and similar exclusions to those which currently apply to office to residential conversions and may include limits on the amount of floorspace that can be converted. In the case of sui generis uses the permitted development right is also proposed to include the right to make “limited external alterations” to the building without planning permission.

Other proposals affecting businesses include a proposal to increase the existing permitted development right to install photovoltaic (PV) cells on non-domestic buildings from a current generating capacity of up to 50 kW to 1 MW. This is subject to a prior approval procedure to consider the siting and design, in order to minimise the impact of glare on neighbouring or overlooking properties from the larger array of solar PV. It is also subject to certain exclusions, eg the right would not apply to listed buildings or buildings in conservation areas.

Finally, the permitted development right or larger extensions to business premises introduced for a temporary three year period in May 2013 is proposed to be made permanent.

Comment

We consider that these proposals are generally good for businesses and are to be welcomed. They potentially provide significantly greater operational flexibility for going concerns as well as providing more options to landlords and those wishing to assign business leases in terms of the range of users to whom they can market premises (subject of course to the user covenant in the lease).