Or, The Theory Of Residential-Rather-Than-Retail-Activity.
MHCLG’s consultation paper Supporting housing delivery and public service infrastructure (3 December 2020, consultation deadline 28 January 2021) sets out various proposed new permitted development rights, but, in what has been a disastrous week for traditional retail chains, guess which proposal has attracted the most attention?
The new class E was introduced into the Use Classes Order in July 2020 (see my 24 July 2020 blog post E Is For Economy) and took effect from 1 September 2020, forming a new, amalgamated commercial, business and service use class that includes the old A1 (with small exceptions), A2, A3, B1, some D1 and some D2).
It was always anticipated that new permitted development rights would be subsequently introduced that allowed changes from the new class E without the need for planning permission. At the moment, until 31 July 2021 the existing permitted development rights apply to whatever the relevant use would have been categorised as before class E was introduced.
But in updating the existing development rights so that they apply to the new class E from 1 August 2021, the Government now intends to allow significantly greater freedoms.
“It is proposed that the right would allow for the change of use from any use, or mix of uses, within the Commercial, Business and Service use class (Class E – see paragraph 12 above) to residential use (C3). The right would replace the current rights for the change of use from office to residential (Part 3, Class O of Schedule 2 to the General Permitted Development Order), and from retail etc to residential (Part 3, Class M of the General Permitted Development Order) which remain in force until 31 July 2021. (See also Part 3 of this consultation document in respect of consequential changes.) It will go significantly beyond existing rights, allowing for restaurants, indoor sports, and creches etc to benefit from the change use to residential under permitted development rights for the first time. The protections in respect of pubs, including those with an expanded food offer, theatres, and live music venues, all of which are outside of this use class, continue to apply and a full planning application is always required for the change of use to or from such uses.
The Commercial, Business and Service use class applies everywhere in all cases, not just on the high street or in town centres. In order to benefit from the right premises must have been in the Commercial, Business and Service use class on 1 September 2020 when the new use classes came into effect.”
So, there will for the first time be the right to convert restaurants, indoor sports centres, creches and so on to residential use.
But the radical part of the proposal is that there should be no size limit on the scale of the conversions allowed:
“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. The right would allow for the building, or part of the building, to change use, rather than lying vacant for example. 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, the impacts of which would be managed through prior approvals. Permitted development rights do not apply to development that is screened as requiring an Environmental Impact Assessment.”
Whilst there is currently no size limit for conversion of offices, for retail and light industrial the limits are currently small (150 sq m and 500 sq m respectively). The new right would enable change of use of the very largest shops and light industrial buildings to residential, subject to similar prior approval requirements as presently apply. Whilst permitted development rights do not apply to development that would require environmental impact assessment, it will surely be very rare that the conversion of a building, however large, would require environmental impact assessment.
How better, it might be thought, both to find new uses for surplus floorspace and to add to housing stock? But of course such a right is going to have a huge effect on the real estate market and could itself help to accelerate the loss of retail where greater value can be extracted by residential conversion.
Unlike with most permitted development rights, this right would also apply in conservation areas. “However, 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.”
These are proposed to be the necessary prior approvals:
“Similar to other permitted development rights for the change of use to residential:
• flooding, to ensure residential development does not take place in areas of high flood risk
• transport, particularly to ensure safe site access
• contamination, to ensure residential development does not take place on contaminated land, or in contaminated buildings, which will endanger the health of future residents
• To ensure appropriate living conditions for residents:
• the impacts of noise from existing commercial premises on the intended occupiers of the development
• the provision of adequate natural light in all habitable rooms
• fire safety, to ensure consideration and plans to mitigate risk to residents from fire
• To ensure new homes are in suitable locations:
• the impact on the intended occupiers from the introduction of residential use in an area the authority considers is important for heavy industry and waste management”
The usual concerns about the permitted development process remain, but now writ large, for instance:
⁃ How can the Government continue to justify not imposing on these permitted development schemes the requirements that would be applied by way of the section 106 planning obligations process to schemes that come forward by way of traditional planning application? Why no affordable housing requirements, or contributions to schools and other social infrastructure, and how is this fair for those developers struggling to deliver traditional projects in the face of policy requirements that permitted development schemes neatly sidestep?
⁃ How will associated applications for planning permission for external works to these buildings be dealt with? Coping with the fenestration, M&E and external aesthetic requirements arising from conversion of an office building is one thing, but imagine the challenges faced by the developer of a department store, supermarket or light industrial unit. And what of its curtilage? What principles should an authority adopt in determining such an application, so that adequate controls are maintained without making the right meaningless by giving the authority a de facto veto?
⁃ Aside from increasing their use of article 4 directions, how can authorities prevent the conversion of buildings in plainly unsustainable locations?
⁃ How can an authority influence its area by way of its development plan policies, when the authority is left with so little control?
⁃ To what extent will the use of the new right be stymied by conditions on existing permissions, disapplying the benefit of the General Permitted Development Order, or indeed Use Classes Order?
As it happens we are co-hosting a webinar with Landmark Chambers to answer questions such as these – and plenty of others that delegates have been sending in. Landmark’s Zack Simons will join Meeta Kaur, Victoria McKeegan and myself at 5.30 pm on 15 December, free registration here: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_4SVkbXSeRsm6QJ9aDRBBDA .
Simon Ricketts, 4 December 2020
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