If you have disused offices and are planning to apply to change the use of the space to residential, then the announcement by Prime Minister’s Office will come as a relief.
Indeed, after much speculation surrounding the temporary permitted development rights (PDR), the Government has announced that the rights will be made permanent from May 2016 subject to some key changes. If you are unfamiliar with the PDR, they were introduced in May 2013 to enable the conversion of disused offices into residential accommodation without having to apply for planning permission. Although, the rights are subject to prior approval by the Local Authorities and have some limitations, they simplify the whole process by cutting back on the unnecessary bureaucratic red tape which is usually associated with securing the appropriate approval.
This announcement comes as part of the Government’s monumental campaign to deliver 1 million homes by 2020. The driving force behind this decision is clearly the housing shortage and in a bid to boost house building and tap into the potential of underused and neglected buildings, the Government will not only offer new homes but will also help in protecting the green belt. Since the introduction of the temporary PDR, there has been almost 4000 office to residential conversions between April 2014 and June 2015 alone.
The changes which will be implemented in May 2016 will be as follows:
- Those who have already secured permission or prior approval will have three years to complete the change of use.
- There are 17 Local Authorities in England including the City of London which are currently exempt from the PDR. These exemptions will remain in place until May 2019. This transitional period will be granted in order to provide the relevant Local Authorities with ample time to consider whether or not the rights should be removed. If they want to continue to require planning application for a change of use from offices to residential, the Local Authorities will have to make an Article 4 direction before May 2019.
- The permanent rights from May 2016 will also introduce, subject to limitations and prior approval from Local Authorities:
- the demolition of office buildings and erection of new builds for residential use;
- the conversion of light industrial buildings and launderettes to residential use.
Further guidance is expected from the Government in respect of the above but this goes a long way to putting an end to the shroud of uncertainty which has been hovering over the building industry and provides welcome certainty for developers and individuals alike. As stated by The British Property Federation, the policy will be a “useful tool in breathing life back into underused commercial space”.
For more information please contact Tim Read, Partner in our Commercial Property Department.