Proposed permitted changes of use from commercial to residential use

Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, issued on the 8 April for public consultation until 30 June, the Government's proposals to enable the change of use from Class B1 (a) (offices; Class B1 (b) (research and development) and Class B1(c) light industry, to Class C3 (dwelling houses) without the need for planning permission.

The Government is also seeking comments of widening the proposed permitted change of use also from Class B2 (General Industrial) and Class B8 (Storage and Distribution) to Class C3 (dwelling house) use and also convert without the need for planning permission unused space above a shop to a flat.

The Government's reasoning for the proposal is that they consider that these proposed measures, in association with the Government's New Homes Bonus and measures included in the localism Bill, including neighbourhood plans, will help to increase housing supply in England.

Commenting upon the proposed changes Eric Pickles said:

"Many towns and cities have office blocks, warehouse and business parks needlessly lying empty, while housebuilding has fallen to the lowest in peace time history because the planning system has tied developers up in knots of red tape. "By unshackling developers from a legacy of bureaucratic planning we can help them turn thousands of vacant commercial properties into enough new homes to jump start housing supply and help get the economy back on track. Councils already have powers to give greater local planning discretion and they should us them more to promote growth."

Decentralisation and Planning Minister Greg Clark added:

"Patterns of office use have changed as employers prefer large open plan spaces to individual offices and as more and more people work from home. That has meant that there are many offices that have been vacant for years."

"This change will make it easy to turn redundant offices into much needed homes. This will replace derelict properties with buildings in good use, contribute to relieving Britain's housing shortage and give a valuable boost to the building industry."

Commentary

The proposed changes can be seen as another measure from the Coalition Government as an attempt to free the regulatory burden upon investors, developers and owners of property by the English planning system.

Given that statistics show that house building in England is at a record low - 129,000 in 2009-10, and households in England are projected to grow by 232,000 per annum - this measure is seen as a relatively "easy win" option to amend the planning system so as to speed up delivery of new housing within England.

Many can indeed see the logic in wishing to convert long standing vacant office blocks in town and city centres, where there is little prospect of them being re-let given prevailing property market conditions and the large vacancy rates of secondary quality office space on the market.

Similarly, vacant premises above shops that easily lend themselves for ready conversion to residential use have long been sought - indeed, many existing development planning policies support such proposals.

The problem however lies in the detail and practicalities of implementing the sought blanket changes through amending the use classes order. For example.

  • The proposed changes only relate to changes of use; that use has to have been implemented. Where the sought conversion is then proposed, in all probability the conversion works will also require alterations to the exterior of the building - for example, new entrances, windows, roof alterations; new vehicular parking and pedestrian access arrangements; new internal floors that could affect the exterior of the building and other works. All of these necessary works could still require planning permission.

It could be that in these circumstances some Local Planning Authorities might not be as supportive permitting such changes where they consider that the development could affect the supply of their employment space.

  • Some Local Planning Authorities might see this an opportunity to ensure that owners and investors cannot convert premises to residential use without having to provide a mix of uses, including affordable housing. This is an established policy principle in many adopted - and now emerging - development plan policies by many Local Planning Authorities covering major towns and City centres in England.
  • Existing commercial premises might have specific conditions or legal agreements that restrict the use of the commercial premises. In such cases, the lawful permission still applies and these restrictions on the use would have to be removed before the proposed changes of use can lawfully be taken up.
  • Not all Class B1 offices are suitable for residential use; bespoke vacant offices, for example, in out of centre locations on main roads, or within business parks, do not always present sustainable residential development. These environmental restrictions will increase where the proposed changes of use are from Class B2/B8 commercial premises to residential use within established industrial estates.
  • The proposed permitted changes of use will not apply to listed buildings or for developments that require environmental assessment, or on land affected by contamination.

Representations to the proposed changes can be made from 8 April to 30 June 2011.

Details of the proposed changes can be viewed here >>

For further comment or information please speak to your usual CgMs contact or Erica Mortimer or Mike Straw

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