The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) Order 2016 introduced permanent permitted development rights to convert offices to residential use and new rights to convert light industrial uses to residential use.

The Order was announced by the Minister of State for Housing and Planning in October as a further measure to unlock unused brownfield sites and increase housing numbers. The rights offer a relatively simple means of carrying out conversions that would have previously required full planning permission with no ability to impose requirements to provide affordable housing. However, the rights are limited in their scope and subject to a requirement for prior approval.

In addition to the rights referred to below, the permitted development right in relation to mixed use units combining a dwelling house with either a betting office, payday loan shop or use falling within either Class A1 (shop) or Class A2 (financial unprofessional services), have been extended to include laundrettes (Article 6).

Office to residential

The right to convert Class B1 (offices) to Class C (residential) was first introduced on a temporary basis in May 2013. Under these rights any proposed conversion had to be completed by May 2016.

The Order now makes those rights permanent. The right remains subject to an application to the Local Planning Authority for determination as to whether prior approval will be required as to:

  • Transport and highways impacts of the development
  • Contamination risks, and
  • Flood risks

The Order has added a new requirement for an assessment of the noise impact from neighbouring commercial premises on the future occupiers of the potential residential development.

The new criteria in respect of noise assessment leaves open the question of what the Local Planning Authority will consider to be an unacceptable impact. The NPPF states that planning policies and decisions should aim to:

  • avoid noise from giving rise to significant adverse impacts on health and quality of life as a result of new development
  • mitigate and reduce to a minimum other adverse impacts on health and quality of life arising from noise from new development, including through the use of conditions
  • recognise that development will often create some noise and existing businesses wanting to develop in continuance of their business should not have unreasonable restrictions put on them because of changes in nearby land uses since they were established; and
  • identify and protect areas of tranquility which have remained relatively undisturbed by noise and are prized for their recreational and amenity value for this reason.

The exemption of certain areas from these permitted development rights (areas containing the most strategically important office space such as the City of London, Manchester City Centre and areas in Ashford), remains in place until 30 May 2019. After this date local planning authorities wishing to retain the exemption will need to make an Article 4 direction. The Mayor of London has, since the Order was published, issued supplementary guidance for the Central Activities Zone which provides guidance to local planning authorities seeking to remove the permitted development right when the current exemptions expire.

Light Industrial to Residential

The Order also creates a new permitted development right for changes of use from Class B1 (c) (light industrial) to Class C (residential). The permitted development right is however subject to restrictions and qualified as follows:

  • The right only takes effect after 30 September 2017
  • The building must have been in use solely within Class B1 (c) on 19th March 2014 or this must have been its last use. The applicant is required to submit a statement evidencing this.
  • The gross floor space cannot exceed 500 square metres
  • The prior approval must be granted before 1 October 2020
  • The right does not apply to listed buildings or scheduled monuments

As with the permitted development rights for office to residential, Class B1 (c) change requires an application to be made for prior approval with details submitted as to the transport and highways impacts, contamination and flood risks. In addition details of whether such change of use and the increase in residential use would have an adverse impact on sustainability of the provision of industrial/storage/distribution services in the area must be submitted.


While the procedure is intended to be simple, evidencing the previous use of buildings may not always be straight-forward, particularly where the previous or historic use of the building did not benefit from an express grant of planning permission or there is some doubt about whether the use fell within B1 or B2. It may be necessary to produce formal evidence on this.

If you can rely on the rights then the ability to circumvent any affordable housing policies can be extremely valuable for developers.

The new rights allowing for change of use from light industrial to residential may not go as far as many will have hoped. Initial consultation suggested that the rights might apply to B2 industrial use. Therefore the limitation to B1(c) and the limit on total floor space along with the delay in the rights coming into force could prove too restrictive. It will remain to be seen whether once in force these rights will have the Government's desired effect of increasing housing numbers.