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More opportunities for residential development in town centres

09/05/2022

Commercial

More opportunities for residential development in town centres

Base Senior Associate Joe Salt is a RIBA qualified architect, town planner and MRTPI (Member of the Royal Town Planning Institute). In this regular column, he takes a look at key planning issues and shares his experience and advice. This month he takes a look at the different strategies commercial developers are using to provide residential development in town centres.

Since August 2021, when further permitted development rules were published allowing all ‘Class E’ premises (think shops, offices, cafes, restaurants etc) to be converted into residential use, we’ve dealt with an increasing number of requests to assess the viability of converting properties in town and city centres into new homes.

A common trend we’re seeing is that the upper floors of retail units – traditionally used for storage – are now lying empty due to our changing shopping habits. This can lead to exciting opportunities to convert them to apartments but there are issues with this type of scheme that developers need to be aware of.

The primary constraint is likely to be access. To be commercially attractive, any upper storey accommodation need access separate to that of the retail unit below. This can usually be provided using an existing fire escape but you do have to ensure that any conversion doesn’t compromise the existing fire escape strategy or the scheme will be doomed to failure before it starts.

Another constraint can be ensuring enough natural light can get in but there are opportunities to do this with additional openings or rooflights for bathrooms or ensuites for example. Listed buildings do, of course, present their own challenges but the principle of conversion is often supported by planning authorities keen to prevent the decline of an existing heritage asset.

These buildings may already have openings that were previously blocked up, and these can be a golden opportunity to the savvy developer looking to reinstate them. As with any listed building conversion, however, careful consideration is needed to retain any historic features and if you’re looking to remove internal walls or historic fabric. If in doubt – check first!

Finally, whilst private outdoor space and parking are not usually fundamental requirements when it comes to converting Class E premises, sufficient internal space is critical to a successful scheme. Concerns stemming from some historic permitted development rights changes surrounding living standards has driven the publication of national minimum space standards, that were adopted on April 6th 2021. These regulations aim to protect developments to some extent from poor quality design but they also serve to increase the end-value of a scheme.  

Here at Base, through some careful design and planning, we gained planning permission under new permitted development rights (See Part 3, Class G of the General Permitted Development Order 2015) for a maximum of two residential units as part of a mixed-use development. This project was unique in that it was located within a conservation area where permitted development rights are usually removed.  

The simplification of the planning use classes and the relaxation of permitted development rights presents exciting new opportunities in areas that would have been problematic to obtain planning permission in the past.

If you own or are looking to purchase commercial premises and are considering redevelopment options, please get in touch  – we’d love the opportunity to review the scheme!

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