Comment – Permitted development: Change of use

Development image

1 February 2013

After much deliberation, the Government intends to implement new permitted development rights.

The coming of spring will see the implementation of new permitted development rights. They will allow the change of use from B1 (a) Office to C3 Residential,for a three year trial period. While this may sound appealing, these permitted development rights should be approached with awareness and caution.

What it does …

Last Friday’s Written Statement sets out the Government’s aims which are to: bring “underused” offices back into effective use as houses for “local” residents create jobs, regenerate town centres and former commercial areas increase the vitality of town centres.

The majority of the country may benefit from this ‘relaxation’; however relaxation is unlikely in Central London. Both the City of London and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea have already publicly stated their commitment to seeking an exemption. Westminster and Camden are likely to follow suit. It is highly likely that the GLA will seek an exemption for the whole of London’s Central Activities Zone.

Eric Pickles recognises that where the loss of a ‘national, significant area of economic activity’ or ‘substantial adverse economic consequences’ can be demonstrated, the PD rights shall not apply. For authorities like Kensington and Chelsea and those other London boroughs which are desperate to protect office employment space, establishing an exemption may be relatively straightforward.

A change of use in non-exempt locations will benefit from permitted development rights, providing that it would not give rise to highways and transport issues or result in specific environmental effects. A prior approval process will apply.

As the change of use would be permitted development, there would be no requirement to meet the policies within the development plan, or any other supplementary planning guidance.  There would be no requirement for a Section 106 Obligation, so no affordable housing contribution will be necessary. Any such permitted change of use will still be liable to CIL. External physical changes to converted buildings will require planning permission and it is difficult to envisage how many of the underused office buildings targeted by this red-tape relaxation could be converted without such alterations. It is also difficult to envisage many locations where stringent building regulations and performance requirements will allow any such conversions to be viable. It is more likely that developers will use the potential to apply the permitted development rights as a reference point for negotiations in connection with redevelopment.

In the meantime for those schemes under negotiation or those that are about to be determined, expect local authorities to apply conditions withdrawing permitted development rights for the office elements.