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Rule change allows even more town centre premises to be converted to residential use

01/09/2021

Commercial

Rule change allows even more town centre premises to be converted to residential use

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 commercial developers can take advantage of more planning changes to convert town centre units into new homes.

In September 2020 new permitted development rights were introduced which relaxed the rules allowing commercial properties to be converted to residential use.

These include new rights allowing the demolition and rebuilding of “vacant and redundant” office and light industrial buildings into dwellings without planning permission. Last month further allowances were published allowing all ‘Class E’ uses to be converted into residential use. These uses include retail, restaurants, professional services, offices, gyms, surgeries, nurseries and a host of other high street uses.

This has opened up very exciting opportunities to convert a wider range of non-residential buildings in town and city centres into residential use, where traditionally councils have sought to maintain a primarily commercial use.  

The new rules are also subject to a fast-track prior approval process although this is subject to certain restrictions such as:

The building must have been vacant for a minimum of three months

The building must have been in a Class E use for at least two continuous years prior to vacancy

A maximum floor area of 1,500 sq.m is allowed to be converted

There are also some other matters that require consideration when looking to develop any potential scheme including flooding, noise, natural daylight and certain additional constraints within conservation areas.

Concerns surrounding living standards still remain and were discussed in a previous article, however the newly published national minimum space standards, which were adopted on 6th April 2021 will help ensure that developments meet minimum standards and more importantly, do not compromise the end value of the scheme. There have been further concerns recently regarding poor quality conversions overheating which is a genuine concern relating to climate change, however any conversion works would still be required to meet the most recent building regulations with regards ventilation and heat loss.

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

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