Permitted development changes – another nail in the coffin for the High Street?

Apex High Street

We turn our attention once more to permitted developments, as yet more change could give the green light to homes on the High Street

Class E Properties

Permitted development rights have seen quite a shake up over the past few months, much of which we have covered before but there’s another raft of changes that have been introduced by the government, or that are set to go ahead soon, which we would like to focus on this month.

This time, it is Class E properties that are the centre of attention. Class E includes properties that are otherwise defined as shops, offices, financial / professional services, cafes and restaurants, light industry, indoor leisure, medical and health centres, and children’s nurseries. These ‘uses’ previously fell into their own Use Class category however the new Class E means there is greater flexibility, allowing property to be changed between the uses without the need for planning permission. In addition, new permitted development (PD) would let these properties be converted from Class E into housing (Class C3) without any need for a planning application.

This has, of course, raised eyebrows and concerns within the planning world, and among those who are responsible for high streets up and down the country. So much so that this month the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), co-signed a letter to the Prime Minister warning that the changes “present a risk for our nation’s town centres and small businesses”.

The letter goes on to raise concerns that the changes will result in poor-quality housing and “will pull the rug out from under high street businesses just as they prepare to reopen”, as property owners see an opportunity to make more profit.

Class MA

They may, possibly, find some comfort in the ’conditions’ that the government has imposed, after it announced that it would be going ahead with the new permitted development right (Class MA), but that such proposals will nevertheless be subject to Prior Approval by local planning authorities.

These new PD rights (along with others we have covered here over the past few months, have been added as part of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development etc.) (England) (Amendment) Order 2021.

The new permitted development rights will come into use on 1 August 2021.

This new PD, which allows Class E commercial properties to be converted into housing, is set out within Schedule 2, Part 3, Class MA of the GPDO. This will replace the existing PD (Class M) that allowed shops and offices to be converted to residential and instead it will cover all the uses within the new Class E. Notably, Class MA arguably presents more controls than Class M through both the Prior Approval application process and the ‘condition’ set out by the government.

Prior approval will still be needed and will allow councils to consider the following:

  • The loss of health centres and registered nurseries on the provision of local services
  • Noise from commercial premises
  • The need for adequate natural light in all habitable rooms of the new residences
  • ‘Consideration of the impact of the loss of the ground floor commercial, business and service use’ – in Conservation Areas.

The government has also placed a limit on the size of building that will be allowed to be converted using Class MA. Those with more than 1,500 sq m of floorspace will not be able to utilise the new rules, as the government believes that it is medium-sized buildings that will be more suitable or appropriate for conversion to residential properties.

Buildings must have been vacant for three months in a row before any application can be made (and this can’t include any period where the building has been shut because of Covid-19 restrictions). They should also have been used for a Class E purpose for at least two years before an application is submitted. This will prevent would-be developers trying to play the system by applying to change the use of a building to Class E shortly before trying to convert it into a residential property.

Like most PD rights, the new rules will not apply in AONBs (Area of Natural Beauty), National Parks, or Sites of Special Scientific Interest – but they will, more unusually, be used in Conservation Areas.

Developers should note though, that despite not having to go through the planning application process, which can be lengthy and costly, there will still be costs. Councils will charge a £100 fee per home, up to a maximum of £5,000 for each development.

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