New permitted development rights for the change of use from office to residential?


The Government have recently announced that they will be publishing new permitted development rights (PD rights) to change the use of office space to residential without the need for planning permission.  If you click on the attachment at the bottom of this email you can read the letter that has gone from the Government’s Chief Planner to all the local Councils explaining the situation:

So why the ? in the title of this news story?

Well – nothing in Planning is ever straightforward – and if you read the attached letter you will see the caveats that are in place.

The power will be for a 3 year period initially.  Local Councils have been given until the 22nd February to ‘opt their area out’ of the pd rights.  However to stem the possible rush, the Government have indicated that opting out would only be allowed in exceptional circumstances.

Annex A to the letter goes on to explain how the PD rights will work.  It states:

“What will these permitted development rights allow? They will permit change of use from B1(a) offices to C3 residential.  This is subject to a prior approval process covering:

-significant transport and highway impacts

-development in safety hazard zones, areas of high flood risk and land contamination

The permitted development rights will only cover change of use: any associated physical development which currently requires a planning application will continue to need one.

A proposed change from commercial to residential use that does not benefit from the new permitted development rights (e.g. where it cannot satisfy the prior approval requirements) will continue to require a planning application, which should be determined in the light of paragraph 51 of the National Planning Policy Framework.”

When will these new rights come into force?

They will come into force in Spring 2013 and run for a period of three years from the date of coming into force. The operation of the rights will be considered towards the end of that period, and the rights may potentially be extended for a further period or indefinitely.”

So, how will the prior approval process operate?   That is yet to be defined – but there is already a prior approval process for phone masts.  In this process the developer has to serve notice on landowners and the local Council.  They provide a description of the works and other details to the Council.  The Council then has a fixed time in which to respond.  They look at the proposals and carry out consultations.  If the Council believes that the scheme meets the defined criteria, they will indicate that prior approval is not required and the developer can proceed.  If the Council believes that prior approval is required, they can either approve or refuse the application.  So there is still a form of application process.  This may or may not be the model for the office pd rights – I am just speculating.

The other thing to note is that the pd rights just apply to the change of use.  So if any physical works or alterations are part of the scheme – such as balconies or changes to elevations – planning permission will still be needed for these elements.

Important question marks remain about affordable housing, Special Protection Areas [SPA] and in time Community Infrastructure Levy [CIL}.  If planning permission is not required for schemes it would be reasonable to assume that Councils will no longer have the triggers to:

  • require the provision of affordable housing and other financial contributions
  • prevent residential use close to SPA’s


We do not know yet whether these impacts are intended or are oversights which will be accommodated in the final legislation.  [It is already possible to levy CIL on schemes which do not require planning permission – more on this in a later article].

Finally, when is Spring 2013?  Is it anytime between March and end of May?

To discuss the issues raised in this article further please contact our Planning Consultant, Steve Thwaites on 01252 710822. 

Steve Thwaites CV

35 years as a planner, with 18 of those as a Chief Planning Officer at Waverley BC. As well as dealing with a variety of case work [town centre redevelopments, airfields, polytunnels, traveller sites, enforcement etc], Steve understands how planning departments work. He has also been a technical adviser to SERPLAN and SEERA on transport and environmental issues. We estimate his signature has appeared on over 40,000 planning decisions…