At a time when headlines and inboxes are filled with new comment, consultation and discussion on how to tackle England's housing crisis, a new permitted development right allowing a change of use from light industrial to residential has come into effect with very little fanfare. So what's new, and why have we not heard more about it?
We should start by noting that the permitted development right to change the use of a building, and any land in its curtilage, from B1(c) to C3 is only a temporary one, and is subject to the prior approval process. The right applies only where the application for prior approval is made on or after 1 October 2017 and where prior approval is given or confirmed as unnecessary on or before 30 September 2020. A further time restriction is that the change of use must be completed within three years of that prior approval date.
These time constraints are likely to be of significant concern to developers so it will be interesting to see whether the right makes it onto a more permanent footing in due course, as has happened with the office to residential provisions.
The new 'Class PA' right in the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 also only applies where the gross floor space of the building is 500 square metres or less, which will automatically rule out many industrial buildings. Further, the building must have been in use solely for light industrial purposes on 19 March 2014 (or when last in use if not in use on that date), and 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. This precludes the very newest light industrial buildings from relying on the right.
The prior approval process will give local authorities some say over the acceptability of any highways impact, contamination risk, flood risk and, where the authority considers that "the building to which the development relates is within an area that is important for providing industrial services or storage or distribution services or a mix of those services", whether the change of use of the building to residential would have an adverse impact on the sustainability of the provision of those services in the area. There may therefore be some market testing to be done in order to rely on the PD right.
Despite this ability to review the above impacts and thereby retain some control over the use of the PD right, many London Boroughs, and local authorities outside the capital, have already secured article 4 directions or started the process of getting them in place, effectively negating the right and ensuring that proposals are subject to the planning application process in the usual way.
Listed buildings, and those in certain other areas, such as SSSIs and safety hazard areas, are not able to rely on this permitted development right.
With all the above restrictions, and the fact that the PD right only relates to the change of use rather than permitting any building or other operations required to make the change work, you can see that the opportunities for making the most of this new provision will be limited - which may be why we have heard so little about them a month in. That said, the right has been brought in for a reason and in some areas this could be a highly effective way to get redundant buildings back into use and increase the housing stock. Time will tell.