New permitted development rights come into force

Several new permitted development rights came into force on 30 May to allow certain works or changes of use without the need for planning permission. The new rights seek to address different and perceived problems in the planning system and the wider economy. We take a closer look at the changes that will most affect you.  

Change of use from office to residential

The new regulations permit a change of use from B1 Office use to C3 residential use providing the building in question is not listed and was immediately before 30 May 2013 in office use or its last use before then was office use.

The change of use entitlement can only be exploited until 30 May 2016. While on its face an attractive and welcome amendment for the development industry, the change of use entitlement comes with strings. Critically a developer proposing to rely upon the entitlement must, before beginning the development, apply to the local planning authority for a determination as to whether prior approval is required in respect of:

  • The transport and highways impact of the development;
  • Contamination risks on the site and;
  • Flooding risks on the site.

The local planning authority must, in reaching a decision on the merits of the determination application, have regard to policies contained in the Government's National Planning Policy Framework document and to consultation responses received, for example in respect of transport issues or flood risk issues from the relevant highway authority and the environment agency respectively. The Secretary of State has qualified the entitlement by providing numerous authorities with an 'opt out'. Potentially lucrative development areas – such as the City of London, Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, Islington, Hackney, Wandsworth and Camden – have all been affected by certain exemptions. The exclusion maps can be viewed here. In some cases (such as the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea), the opt out covers the borough's entire area.

While the office to residential amendment is a welcome (albeit emasculated) step in the right direction, it is important to remember that material alterations to the external appearance of the building necessitated by the change of use will still require planning permission and that this may provide a local planning authority with an opportunity to secure affordable housing. They will therefore be assessed in accordance with the usual development control considerations, with all of the consequences – including in particular planning delays – that flow from that.

Extending extensions  

The regulations permit rear extensions to terraced and semi-detached properties of up to 6 metres in length and detached properties of up to 8 metres in length with a height limitation in each case of not more than 4 metres. While once again this is a welcome change, the Government has succumbed to pressure from local authorities and residents groups and has introduced a requirement on local planning authorities to notify owners and occupiers of any adjoining premises about the proposed development by serving notice on them indicating:

  • how far the enlarged part of the dwelling house extends beyond the rear wall of the original dwelling house;
  • the maximum height of the enlarged part of the dwelling house and;
  • the height of the eaves of the enlarged part of the dwelling house.

If the owner or occupier of any adjoining premises objects to the proposed development on any grounds, the prior approval of the planning authority about the "impact of the proposal on the amenity of adjoining premises" is required. Importantly the amenity impact point must be considered in the context and for the purposes not only of the person/premises raising the objection but also for the purposes of all adjoining premises. The development can only then proceed following receipt by the developer of a written notice of approval from the local planning authority.

This notification window is critical and represents the only opportunity to alter the use of the right. Neighbours cannot rely on councils to extend time or to make decisions without them.

The entitlement can only be relied upon until 30 May 2016. It will be important therefore for those seeking to exploit the entitlement to demonstrate at the outset that the proposal will not result in any amenity impact to adjoining premises.

Converting retail, business, leisure and other uses

This allows a change from A1 Shops, A2 Financial and Professional Services, A3 Restaurants and Cafes, A4 Drinking Establishments, A5 Hot Food Takeaways, B1 Business, D1 Non-Residential Institutions and D2 Assembly and Leisure to a flexible use within A1 Shops, A2 Financial and Professional Services, A3 Restaurants and Cafes and B1 Business.

The flexible use entitlement can be exploited for up to two years beginning on the date the building and land within its curtilage begins to be used for a flexible use. However, it cannot be exploited if:

  • The change of use relates to more than 150sq metres of floor space in the building; and
  • The site has, at any time in the past, relied upon the change of use entitlement set out above.

The entitlement can only be relied upon to use the building for one of the use changes at a time, and the building must revert to its previous use at the end of the flexible use period.

Arguably the Government has missed a trick by not including community uses within the flexible use as these can add diversity and footfall to the high street.

Alterations to industrial or warehouse buildings

The regulations permit the gross floor space of an industrial or warehouse building to be increased from 25% of gross floor space to 50%. This entitlement is temporary and will expire on 30 May 2016.

Extensions or alterations to office buildings

The regulations increase the permitted development right to extend or alter an office building from 25% of gross floor space or 50 sq metres (whichever is the lesser) to 50% or 100 sq metres. Again, this entitlement is temporary and will expire on 30 May 2016.

All taken together, this is a major revision of the rights available to landowners. In essence, it is a step in the right direction but is compromised by changes introduced to appease powerful lobbying groups opposed to the initiatives. The net result is likely to be a limited contribution to the Government's growth agenda.