In a move to kick start the construction industry and to speed up rebuilding, the Prime Minister has announced significant changes to the use classes system and to permitted development rights in England. The changes in short, enable existing commercial properties to be converted into residential housing more easily.
In order to achieve this aim, the Government first introduced a new planning use class. The Commercial, Business and Service use class (known now as “Class E”) includes uses generally found on the high street such as shops, banks and restaurants, and broadens it to encompass a wider range of uses such as gyms, crèches and offices. This provides greater flexibility to move between such uses, and for businesses to provide for a mix of such uses, without the need for a planning application.
Alongside this, the Government also introduced a series of changes to permitted development rights. The first new permitted development right allows for builders to no longer require a normal planning application to demolish and rebuild vacant and redundant residential and commercial buildings, if they are to be rebuilt as homes. The second right will enable property owners to build additional space above their properties via a fast track approval process, subject to neighbour consultation.
On 31 March 2021, the Government announced that unused commercial buildings will be granted a new permitted development to be converted into homes via a fast-track prior approval. This right will only be available on premises of less than 1,500sq m in size, and only for premises that have been vacant for three months prior to the date of applications.
However, these changes are facing heavy criticism. The Town Planning Institute, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Chartered Institute of Building and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors are all opposing the changes to permitted development rights. They have joined forces in writing to the Prime Minister, calling for tighter controls on permitted development rights. The opening paragraph of their letter dated 1 April 2021 stated that the “announcement aimed at allowing commercial premises to be converted into homes presents a risk for our nation’s town centres and small businesses. Without the usual checks and balances through the normal planning process and without the facility for local communities to comment on proposals, this risks creating poor-quality housing.”
They further stated that the “announcement fails to consider the public good and demonstrates a lack of any forethought for those who will be affected. This is not only a failure to “level up” but a threat to our local communities.”
Despite this criticism, as it stands, the above changes made within the government’s announcement on 31 March 2021 remain in force.