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New Rules Open Up Opportunities For Replacing Commercial Premises With Residential Housing





New Rules Open Up Opportunities For Replacing Commercial Premises With Residential Housing


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 how new permitted development rules could provide more opportunities to replace existing commercial buildings in rural areas with residential properties.

From the end of August 2020, new permitted development rights were introduced to allow vacant commercial properties to be demolished and replaced with residential accommodation, including either flats or a detached house. As the new legislation doesn’t stipulate that a site has to be within a defined settlement boundary (ie a town or village), this has opened up very exciting opportunities for new residential development in rural areas.

There are, of course, certain caveats within the legislation:

  •  The old building must have been vacant for a minimum of six months before applying for prior approval
  • The old building must have been solely used for either offices or light industrial
  • The old building must not have a floor area exceeding 1,000 sqm
  • The old building must not exceed 18m in height (at its highest point)
  • The old building must have been constructed before 1st January 1990

One of the most interesting elements of this permitted development right is that the new building can’t exceed the footprint of the old building but it can be up to 7m higher, allowing for an additional two storeys. However, the new building cannot however exceed 1,000 sqm in total.

There are the usual areas where this type of development isn’t allowed: conservation areas, areas of outstanding natural beauty, national parks and world heritage sites. The rights also don’t apply if the original building is listed or within the curtilage of a listed building. Perversely, this permitted development does still apply in the green belt, which is peculiar as it allows for a larger building than the existing one that could impact openness, a key characteristic of the green belt.  

The usual process for these new types of permitted development rights is still required to be followed and a notice of prior approval application needs to be submitted to the council. However, by not restricting countryside location outside of settlement boundaries and allowing for an increase in floor area through the potential to construct two additional floors, there are now huge opportunities for landowners to redevelop vacant sites that are no longer economically viable to provide new housing in areas where this would traditionally have been difficult to achieve.

The simplification of the planning use classes, alongside the relaxation of permitted development rights, presents exciting new opportunities in areas that historically would have been problematic to obtain planning permission. These changes are a further indication of the direction of travel with regards the government’s response to creating more vibrant town and city centres in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

If you own or are looking to purchase vacant commercial offices or light industrial units and are considering redevelopment options, get in touch – we’d love the opportunity to review the scheme!

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