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Town Centre-to-Residential PD Rights

Tuesday, 15 December 2020

No Size Limit on the new Town Centre-to-Residential use Permitted Development Right.


The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) yesterday announced a fresh radical shake-up of town centre PD rules, following extensive changes to town centre use classes that came into effect from the start of September.

Those changes saw a whole host of uses – primarily offices, restaurants and shops, professional services and light industrial – bundled into one all-encompassing new category, Class E. This means that moving between these uses does not, in planning terms, constitute development, thus largely removing local authorities' role in policing it.

But the government has now gone further, proposing to allow buildings under the Class E use class to convert to residential use (Class C3) without full planning permission.


"Having first simplified the change of use in such cases, we want now to build on this providing further flexibility to allow this broader range of uses to change to residential use",  the consultation document says.


The document says that "building on the delivery success of the permitted development right for the change of use from office to residential, it is proposed that there be no size limit on the buildings that can benefit from the right".


It adds: "It is recognised that some retail and office buildings in particular could be a substantial size, and therefore result in a significant number of new homes." However, it says that any impacts "would be managed through prior approvals".


The ability of councils to manage such development under the prior approval system would be restricted to a limited number of factors, including flood concerns, noise, contaminated land, and natural light.


Conservation areas would not be exempt, the document says, noting that "some high streets and town centres are designated conservation areas, and therefore include many of the uses that could benefit from the right, and residents that could benefit from the conversions".


It adds: "Such areas may be designated as conservation areas for their architectural and historical value and allowing a more diverse range of uses could attract more people to enjoy them and make them more sustainable."


But "in recognition of the conservation value that retail frontage can bring to conservation areas the right would allow for prior approval of the impact of the loss of the ground floor use to residential".


The consultation also states that any application for prior approval would be accompanied by "detailed floor plans showing dimensions and proposed use of each room, including the position of windows, information necessary for the consideration of the matters for prior approval, and an appropriate fee".


The fee would be set at £96 per new dwelling, capped at a maximum of the fee for 50 homes.


On the likely impacts of the proposals, the consultation document suggests that "take-up of the right might be expected to be high" among premises such as gyms, restaurants and research establishments "that have not previously benefited from permitted development rights for the change of use to residential".


Outlining the benefits of the new right, the document says that local planning authorities would "benefit from reduced volume of planning applications, offset by a reduction in fees", while the "community would benefit from the quality new homes that meet nationally described space standards whether to buy or to rent".


Nicola Gooch, planning partner at law firm Irwin Mitchell, said: "Given the impact that Covid 19 and associated restrictions have had on the economy, there will be a real temptation for commercial landlords to flip vacant units to residential before looking at other, more traditional, commercial uses for them.


"If this is enacted, unless councils are very quick off the mark with their Article 4 Directions, the future of many high streets may very quickly become predominantly residential."


The consultation runs until 28 January 2021 and can be found here.

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