The permitted development rights for office-to-residential conversions have generally proved controversial, with many local authorities applying for an exemption from the PD rights before they came into effect and a number of local authorities making, or proposing to make, Article 4 Directions that would exclude the PD rights from their area.

The Secretary of State has used his powers of intervention to approve several Article 4 Directions, although in some cases requiring that a smaller area is covered by the Direction or requiring that the Direction is modified to exclude land that has already received prior approval from the local authority for the proposed offce-to-resi conversion. Islington Council may yet be successful in its attempt to introduce an Article 4 Direction to exclude the PD rights. The Secretary of State had previously directed that the Article 4 Direction should be cancelled but has now accepted that a mistake was made in reaching that decision. The Secretary of State will therefore cancel the cancellation direction, and reconsider the Article 4 Direction.

Investors or developers intending to rely on the office-to-resi PD rights do therefore need to check whether an Article 4 Direction has already been made that covers the area of the relevant property, or whether such a Direction is in the pipeline. Where the PD rights do still apply, then a local authority can only prevent an office-to-resi conversion by refusing to give its prior approval on the basis of transport and highways impacts of the conversion, or any flooding or contamination risks on site. However, getting through this prior approval process may not be straightforward: Planning Resource recently reported that more than 40 appeals have been lodged against the decisions of local authorities to refuse prior approval for office conversion proposals.

This week, there was news that one of those appeals had been successful. The London Borough of Bromley had refused to give prior approval to a 75-unit office to residential conversion due to concerns as to road safety and impacts on local transport infrastructure. On appeal however, the Inspector concluded that the conversion would have a marginal effect on the levels of parking in the surrounding area and not cause any harm to highway safety.