The government recently announced that it is opening a public consultation on the use of Permitted Development (PD) for converting commercial and service properties to residential.
The consultation will run from 3rd December 2020 to 28th January 2021 and is open to the public and private businesses. As a property developer specialising in this area, Ocea are very keen to see how this will develop over time.
What does this mean for commercial PD?
As many of us know, the British high street has been in a state of decline for many years. Due mainly to changes in shopping habits, the newly created Class E properties in town centres are steadily emptying. For example, the government announced a net reduction of 5,350 units in town centres from June 2019 to June 2020. Aside from the unfortunate loss of jobs, this is leaving many buildings empty.
Prior Approval (PA), a relatively new (2013) introduction to the wider Permitted Development (PD) rules has been a successful development for housing. In the 5 years to March 2020, PA accounted for nearly 73,000 new homes. It’s a sustainable and economically friendly way of using buildings that would otherwise be left empty.
But it’s not without its downfalls. When introduced initially a PA decision was ‘guaranteed’ within 8 weeks given that in the event a Local Authority had not determined the application within that timeframe, it was deemed consented.
Gradually though, additional tests were introduced, Local Authorities started to try and flex their muscles by bringing further considerations and contributions into scope and requests for extensions to the decision-making process were commonplace and a non-decision was no longer regarded as consent, leaving developers little option but to agree to multiple extensions.
Similarly, while many developments have been of good quality, some developers have taken advantage of the rules and produced homes that are too small or have insufficient light which we touched on a few weeks ago. This brought all PA developments into disrepute as we saw ample evidence of a ‘chain only being as strong as its weakest link’ very much in evidence.
What are the new rules under consultation?
The new rules proposed in the consultation are designed to streamline the PA process once again, but across a broader spectrum of commercial property types. Currently, the rules state that Class O (office space) and Class M (retail space) can be converted to residential. But the new rules will allow for a larger bracket of “public” properties (i.e. medical services, financial services, professional services, retail, cafes/restaurants, light industrial and more) to be converted to residential easily, and the previous size limit on PA conversions of retail spaces will be swept away.
Included in the new bracket – for the first time – are property types such as indoor sports and crèches. Buildings such as pubs and theatres will remain outside of this bracket and still require full planning permission.
The goal is clearly to reinvigorate flagging town centres and convert them into mixed-use spaces unlike those we have seen before. The government wants to create vibrant spaces that are a mix of living, shopping, eating, and other services. Of course, this dream relies on developers producing high quality, desirable living spaces within town centres. Government has introduced both PD rights and PA rights to this space, allowing for both the conversion of, and demolition and rebuild of significant parts of town and city centres, so there really is no reason that developers cannot be part of the solution for our changing urban centres.
We at Ocea Group are excited by these proposals and will be adding our experience to the consultation. As PD/PA specialists, we look forward to the streamlined process allowing for more attractive and interesting living spaces, and for the dynamic evolution of our country’s town centres.
If you would like to get involved in the government’s consultation, you can view the full document and contact details here. Providing everything goes ahead, these proposed changes will be swift and transformative.