As foreshadowed in the Budget, the Government has now started a formal consultation on relaxing the planning rules for changes of use from commercial to residential.

The Government’s view is that this responds to a recognised and urgent need to increase housing supply at a national level, and that in general housing is likely to have fewer wider land-use impacts than commercial uses. The Government also considers this will promote regeneration of commercial land and help bring empty commercial buildings back into productive use.

The intention is to amend the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 to allow changes of use from commercial to residential as permitted development, rather than requiring planning applications.

Whilst the main proposal is to allow changes from B1 (business – offices, research and development premises and light industry) to C3 (dwellinghouses), the Government is also consulting on allowing changes from B2 (general industrial) and B8 (storage and distribution) to C3 as well. The estimate is this could produce a total of 14,000 dwellings per year from B-class buildings.

The consultation considers how factors such as availability of commercial land, transport, parking, noise, amenity, housing mix and residential values could be affected by the relaxed rules. It also seeks views on whether there should be pre-conditions, thresholds, and exclusions built into the new rules.

The new rules would only allow change of use. Where a development requires additional work to the exterior of an existing building, or is a new build development, a planning application for operational development will be required, but the areas of contention should be reduced.

There is a secondary proposal to allow more than a single flat to be provided above shops and other town centre premises.

The consultation was published on 8 April and runs until 30 June 2011.

The impact of all these proposals, if implemented, would be reviewed after three years.