Regulations came into force on 6 April which bolstered the ever growing list of permitted development rights for residential conversions. The temporary office-to-residential permitted development right, first introduced in May 2013 and which was due to lapse at the end of May 2016, has been made permanent, subject to some changes.
- In considering whether prior approval is required Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) must now consider noise impacts on intended residents from commercial premises, in addition to transport and highways impacts, contamination risks and flooding risks. This change acknowledges that in some locations, particularly those with “lively” night-life neighbours, residential development may not be appropriate.
- The exempt areas, or Article 2(5) land, generally comprising the most strategically important office space, will now only benefit from exemption until 30 May 2019. After that, as with the rest of England, the exemptions will only apply if an Article 4 Direction removing permitted development rights has been made.
- The development must be completed within three years of the prior approval date (which may be deemed if there is no actual prior approval). This is different wording from the temporary permitted development right, which required the use of the building as a dwelling house “to be begun” by 30 May 2016. The change in wording is clearly intended to clarify what must be done within the three years. In this case the development is the change of use, not the physical works of conversion. Although there is case law which suggests that physical works may be sufficient to constitute change of use, the safer interpretation in this case, given the word “completed”, is that physical occupation must have occurred by the end of the three year period. However, this is likely to remain an area of debate, with different LPAs adopting different approaches, until the courts finally make a ruling.
What happens now?
Prior approvals already given to convert offices to dwellings under the previous temporary permitted development rights will now benefit from the three year period in which to complete the conversion works. This will run from the date when the prior approval was granted or deemed to be granted.
- The Government had previously indicated that the permitted development rights would be extended to allow for demolition and rebuilding. These provisions are conspicuously absent, but Government has confirmed that it remains committed to bringing forward these measures. As ever, the devil will be in the detail and it is likely that difficulties in drafting provisions which will stand up to scrutiny are causing the delay. Expect these provisions at some stage.
- There may be some adjustment to the boundaries of the excluded areas as these are replaced by Article 4 Directions. These require the consent of the Secretary of State, who has already insisted that blanket Directions, covering a whole LPA area, are cut down. This is likely to continue. Notice and consultation is required, so those who wish to convert property in areas where conversion is likely to be contentious should keep an eye open for any moves by the LPA to restrict development.