Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has announced that new permitted development rights allowing unused commercial premises to be converted into homes via a fast-track prior approval will be laid before Parliament today (31 March 2021) as part of a package of measures designed to revitalise England's high streets and help them to adapt and thrive.

In order to qualify for the permitted development right the commercial premises must have been:

  • in a Commercial Business and Service use (within the new Use Class E) for two years; and
  • vacant for 3 months before the date of application for prior approval.

The amount of floorspace which can change use under the new right will be limited to 1,500 square metres of floorspace in order to focus the right on medium sized high street sites. It is intended to take effect from 1 August 2021. Existing Article 4 directions preventing changes of use from office to residential will continue to have effect until 31 July 2022.

Prior approval will be required from the local planning authority on matters of flooding, noise impact, provision of adequate natural light to all habitable rooms, and where relevant, the impact of the loss of health centres and registered nurseries on the provision of such local services. In conservation areas the local planning authority will also be required to consider the impact of the loss of the ground floor Commercial, Business and Service use. Any homes approved will need to meet the national space standards.

It is assumed that the new right will extend to apply to all of high street uses covered by Class E, although that will become clear once the legislation is available.

Other measures forming part of the package to boost the high street's recovery include:

  • a new fast track for extending public service buildings including schools, colleges, universities and hospitals
  • relaxation of planning rules to allow pubs and restaurants to operate as takeaways
  • longer opening hours for retail to provide flexibility and reduce pressures on transport
  • extension the provisions for temporary pavement licences.

Further measure include an extension of permitted development rights for ports and amendment of the permitted development rights for demolition in relation to the removal of unlisted heritage assets.

We will be reporting on the detail of the revisions in due course.

The new rules, announced by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, will help support the creation of much-needed homes while also giving high streets a new lease of life – removing eyesores, transforming unused buildings and making the most of brownfield land.