Our current Government, at least the Conservative element, has been struggling with the conflict between encouraging growth and promoting local determinism. They do not always go hand in hand.

The next battleground will be the introduction of the new permitted development rights announced by the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, in his Housing and Growth Statement back in September. These new rights will allow the change of use from commercial to residential purposes without the need for planning permission. The draft legislation introducing this right is expected to be published at the end of January and to come into force by April at the latest. Whilst the detail of this new ability remains unknown, it is anticipated that the new rights will allow offices to change to housing across the country, except where local council’s opt out.

In town centres and along arterial routes all over the country there are underused or vacant offices which are suitable for conversion to residential use. These new freedoms will give greater certainty to developers that the residential use can be achieved, which in turn will stimulate new development – estimated at 100,000 new units – on previously developed land.

Whilst the legal provisions will allow individual local authorities to remove these freedoms from part or all of their administrative area, they will have to demonstrate that there is a sound reason why they wish to do so. Such a reason could be if the conversion of offices would lead to a reduction of employment space in an area.

Adam Pyrke, Head of London Planning at Colliers International, stated:

“These new freedoms will give developers a strong incentive to provide new housing across the country. It is likely the schemes will be small scale, but when taken together will provide a valuable addition to higher housing stock. It would be a shame if local authorities responded restrictively, seeking to limit this freedom where there is such a clear need for the provision of new housing”.