PM’s Build, Build, Build plans open up possibilities

yellow-work-lamps-turned-on Permitted development updates

As the government announces a raft of new permitted development rights, it will be interesting to see how lockdown could change the face of property development…

At the beginning of this month, Boris Johnson made his ‘Build, Build, Build’ announcement, which Number 10 claimed represented the “most radical reforms to our planning system since the Second World War”.

The government is bringing in several new permitted development rights that allow changes of use of buildings and extensions along with demolition and rebuilding.

Of particular interest in the wake of lockdown is the allowance for demolition and rebuilding. For example, some businesses may have realised that their staff can, in fact, work from home on a more-or-less permanent basis, so they are no longer in need of large offices.

Or it may have highlighted that their existing older offices are not suitable for our modern way of working, where staff use Teams and Zoom more frequently, and what their employees actually need to operate efficiently are better-designed and networked offices.

This could lead to a rise in demand for smaller office units, less office floor space and more modern office floor space, and larger, older offices becoming vacant as businesses exercise ‘break clauses’ in their leases.

It is also likely to drive up the demand for Grade A offices, so applications for their development may start to increase – something that local planning authorities should be ready for and which should be appearing in Local Plans.

That aside, where will these changes leave the owners of offices that don’t suit the new way of working? Well, they will need to think ahead to what they can do with their existing sites. The good news is that the permitted development rights could now open up a wider range of options. Maybe they could demolish and rebuild the offices or consider a change of use to residential.

With the announcement of so many shops closing post lockdown – perhaps the most shocking being a number of flagship John Lewis stores – the new ability to change the use of shops to other uses is good news for owners, and a reflection that the High Street has changed, possibly forever, as we continue to move towards online shopping. However, it is unclear how the mix of uses will be maintained and how planners will be allowed to avoid saturation of one kind of business.

An easy way to increase supply of housing looks likely too, as the permitted development rights now allow for the extension of existing blocks of purpose-built flats by up to two storeys. This would increase density, ensure the use of brownfield land, and reduce demand for the development of greenfield sites. However, concerns about increased pressure on public services would still need to be addressed.

And on the subject of flats, planners will be pleased to see this particular loophole close. Permitted development right will now require that the conversion of existing commercial buildings to flats ensures that they are served with “adequate light”, avoiding the infamous case of a development of window-less flats being passed. Imagine living in a flat like that during lockdown!

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