New permitted development right for commercial to residential use

As of 31st August 2020, there is a new right allowing some commercial buildings to be knocked down and replaced with either a block of flats or a detached house.  It applies to buildings used as offices, for research and development and for light industrial purposes (use class B(1)).

The right is more complicated than some permitted development rights that have gone before, and there are a number of limitations.  For example, the original building must have been constructed before 31 December 1989, not be listed, not exceed 1,000 square metres and have been empty for at least six months.

Whilst full planning permission is not required, it is still necessary to apply for prior approval from the Local Planning Authority, in relation to a number of factors including the following:

  • transport, contamination, flood risk, heritage and archaeology;
  • design, external appearance and natural light;
  • amenity of the new premises and neighbouring buildings, including privacy, light and noise;
  • protected views and air traffic or defence, unless the new building does not extend beyond the envelope of the old building;
  • method of demolition; and
  • the impact on business and new residents of new or increased residential use in the area.

There are also a number of restrictions on the nature of the replacement home, including the number of storeys that can be added, the footprint and proximity to highway.

It is therefore far from a straightforward right and there are also some concerns about the suitability of ex-commercial space for residential use, as well as presumably about the potential impact on already-suffering town centres.  Indeed, the changes are currently facing legal challenge by an environmental campaign group.  We would therefore advise caution against relying on the new measures until the High Court has ruled on this challenge in mid-October.

However, in a world where there is an unremitting need for new homes, surely any measures to make it easier (albeit not drastically so) to repurpose an otherwise redundant building and to create more flexibility for what buildings can be used for must ultimately be a positive advance.

Fenella Eddell is a solicitor in the property department at Barker Gotelee, Suffolk solicitors.

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