The Government has released the detail of the new permitted development rights allowing changes of use from offices to residential. Adam Pyrke, London Planning Director at Colliers International comments:

“These new freedoms will open up opportunities all around the country for the creation of new housing. The absence of affordable housing requirements will provide an incentive to developers to progress quickly which will contribute towards achieving the Government’s objective of stimulating the construction industry.”

“It is clear that Central London has received special protection.  Elsewhere in the country there is protection for Manchester city centre; and defined employment locations at Didcot, Harwell, Stevenage and Ashford International Station.  Oddly, there is also protection for 10 largely rural parishes spread through East Hampshire.  The areas protected range in size from whole boroughs – such as the City of London and Kensington and Chelsea – through to individual buildings.”

View Central London areas exempt from office to residential permitted development rights.
View Manchester City Centre areas exempt from office to residential permitted development rights.

The permitted development rights do not apply to listed buildings or ancient monuments, in safety hazard areas or military explosive storage areas. A prior notification procedure has to be followed before the conversion takes place and will not approve changes of use on contaminated land.

The ability to change from office to residential only applies to buildings in England which are is use as offices on 30 May 2013, or if vacant on that date, were last used for offices. The residential use must begin by 30 May 2016. The prior notification procedure will take 56 days, and so applications will effectively have to be made by the end of 2015.

The Procedure

The first stage is to make a Prior Notification application to the local planning authority. This procedure is to allow the planning authority to decide whether prior approval is required on the basis of three impacts:

1. Transport and Highways;
2. Contamination; and
3. Flood Risk

Applicants must send the Council a written description of the proposed development together with plans indicating both the site and the proposed development and their contact details and an £80 fee.

The planning authority may require applicants to submit further information in order to ensure they fully understand the application.  This information could include an assessment of the impact or risks, or a statement as to how these are to be mitigated.

The planning authority must publicise the application by posting a site notice and serving notice on adjoining owners/occupiers. They also have a duty to consult with specified consultees who have a 21 day period to respond.

Where the planning authority believe the change will result in a material increase, or change in the character of traffic near the site, it is necessary to consult:

  • The Secretary of State for Transport with respect to traffic entering/leaving a trunk road;
  • The local Highway Authority (except where the local planning authority is also the Highway Authority) where the change relates to traffic entering/leaving a classified road or proposed highway;
  • The Secretary of State for Transport and the Rail Network operator where the increase or change relates to traffic using a level crossing.

Where the Prior Notification application relates to flood risk, the planning authority must consult the Environment Agency where the site is in Flood Zones 2 or 3, or in a Zone 1 area which has critical drainage problems.

Where the application relates to contamination, the council will determine whether, taking into account any proposed mitigation measures, the site is contaminated and if so will refuse to give prior approval.

When determining the application the planning authority should take into account any consultation responses received and have regard to the National Planning Policy Framework. The planning authority’s decision will be by written notice saying that approval is not required; granting prior approval; or refusing it within 56 days following the date on which the application is received.  Failure to meet this deadline means that the conversion can go forward irrespective of what later decision the authority may reach.

It remains open for individual planning authorities to bring forward Article 4 Directions which have the effect of removing these permitted development rights. Compensation can, however, be claimed where planning permission is subsequently refused for development which would otherwise be allowed by the permitted development rights.