On May 30th, a comprehensive new range of permitted development rights came into force. These included a change from offices to residential, agricultural to a range of rural diversification uses, and more flexibility for town centre uses. It was all heralded as a simplification of planning and this de-regulation would help boost the economy.
I wasn’t so sure and held my breath as I could see some loose ends. After 37 years in planning, my experience was that each ‘simplification’ exercise actually made the planning process more complicated. And why? In my view no Government [of whatever hue] would be allowed by the electorate to truly allow a loosening of planning control. I have even known business leaders and developers become staunch objectors to schemes when they are close to home. So any ‘loosening’ of control has to be tightly drawn and strictly managed! Hence new parallel systems are introduced, such as the ‘prior approval’ procedure.
Anyway – back to some of the new pd rights.
Office to residential – This is not an automatic right. If you are interested in pursuing this, you still have to make a prior approval application to the local planning authority [LPA]. In this process, the LPA are supposed to assess the scheme against the criteria of transport impacts, site contamination and risk of flooding. They have 8 weeks to carry out consultations on these matters and then to finally indicate to you that you can go ahead, or that they think you still need a planning application. So it is a quasi-planning application in its own right. Note also that if you are intending any external works to the building [eg balconies and new window openings] – you may still need planning permission for these works anyway.
However if your property is within certain Parishes in East Hampshire District, the Council managed to get exemption from these rights. Also, if your property is within 5km of the Thames Basin Heath Special Protection Area [SPA] [which is intended to protect ground nesting birds on the various heaths and commons in the area] – well it gets more complicated. Some [if not all] of the 17 affected LPA’s have decided that the PD rights do not apply because in their view the Habitats Directive triggers the need for a planning application. So they will still be looking critically at any proposals and seeking the usual affordable housing and s106 financial contributions. I have written to the Government’s Chief Planner asking for clarification.
In the meantime, I suspect there will be conflicting advice and much acrimony until this is sorted out.
Farm buildings – For existing buildings of up to 500 sqm, the rights allow you to change the use to: retail [A1], professional and financial offices [A2], food and drink [A3], offices and light industry [B1], warehousing and distribution [B8], hotel and guest house [C1] and Sports leisure [D2]. This is intended to assist with diversification of the rural economy. If the building is less than 150sqm, you only have to notify the LPA. If it is 150-500 sqm, you have to submit a prior approval application as described above to assess whether planning permission is required. Finally the new use will become sui-generis so that once you have changed to the new use, you will have to apply for permission for any subsequent changes.
Flexible uses – For existing buildings of upto 150 sqm in ‘town centre’ type uses eg retail , food and drink and offices, there is the right to change retail [A1], financial and professional offices [A2], food and drink [A3] and office and light industry [B1]. I suspect the Government were concerned about some of the struggling High Streets in parts of the country and wanted to give owners some options. However these changes of use only last 2 years and then the ‘lawful’ use of the property reverts back to its original use. The only required process is that you have to tell the LPA what you are doing.
There also changes to the pd rights for house extensions and schools, but I have concentrated on those which impact on commercial property.
So – do you still believe the PD rights are simple and straightforward?
For further information please contact Wadham & Isherwoods planning consultant Steve Thwaites on 01252 710822