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Permitted development rights and the future of offices

The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 currently permits the conversion of offices (and other commercial premises within use Class E) to residential dwellings (Use Class C3) subject to conditions. Such conditions include a restriction on the maximum floorspace of the office floorspace to be converted (1,500sqm) and the office must have been vacant for at least 3 months prior to the prior approval application. 

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the consequential rise of hybrid working, the office market has been significantly impacted with a higher demand for flexible arrangements and lower overall requirements from occupiers. Although it is noteworthy that the market has seen improvements since hitting a slump during the pandemic.

Despite this, the government announced on 13 February, that legislation has been laid in Parliament to extend current permitted development (PD) rights to allow commercial buildings of any size to be converted into new homes. The government is of the view that such changes would create thousands of new homes by reducing the bureaucratic burdens of the current planning system; helping to achieve the housing delivery target. 

On the same day, the government also published a new consultation on proposed changes to various permitted development rights. These proposals are mainly aimed at boosting housing potential and cover: 

  • General improvements and enlargements to homes through side and rear extensions.
  • Upward extensions. 
  • Energy efficiency measures such as air source heat pumps (for domestic purposes) and electrical outlets.
  • The demolition and rebuild of certain buildings (detailed below). 

Current PD rights allow the demolition of a single detached building in use as offices, research and development or light industrial or other uses falling within Use Class B1 (on 12 March 2020) and its replacement with a block of flats or detached dwelling house. The government’s intention was to increase housing delivery by streamlining the process in replacing derelict commercial buildings that are no longer suitable for their use with new homes. They are now seeking views on: 

  • Removing restrictions on the age of the building (at present the building must have been constructed on or before 31 December 1989).
  • Streamlining and/or simplifying the prior approval process.  
  • Allowing the rebuild footprint for the new buildings to benefit from the PD rights in Class A of Part 7 (which covers extensions and alterations of properties in Use Class E). 

The consultation can be found here and closes on 9 April 2024.

The government is also helping developers overcome tiresome bureaucracy by slashing red tape that stops derelict sites and unused buildings being turned into new homes.

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