On 31st March 2021, the government updated their consultation on ‘supporting housing delivery and public services infrastructure.’ Their response confirmed that they would go ahead with plans to introduce a new permitted development (PD) rights, allowing a range of commercial use properties to convert to housing without the need of a planning application.
This new proposal is set to be a major factor in resolving the current housing crisis as well as restoring and regenerating local high streets and town centres. Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has said: “By diversifying our town and city centres and encouraging the conversion of unused shops into cafes, restaurants or even new homes, we can help the high street to adapt and thrive for the future.” It is hoped that by allowing unused commercial buildings to be changed into homes, it will encourage more people to live near local high streets and come to the area for work and leisure.
However, the new measures have come under heavy criticism from some industry bodies, particularly the RIBA. Institute president Alan Jones has argued that the new rules are dangerously relaxed and calls for urgent reconsideration. Many believe that the relaxed rules will have a seriously harmful effect on the quality of builds. Whereas, most developers welcome the new reform, claiming that it will help support housing delivery in the challenging environments we are currently facing.
Another positive factor is that the new reform will encourage developers to utilise existing space rather than build on valuable green space. In August 2020, the GLA issued a London Green Spaces Commission report, where the Mayor of London looks at a collaborative approach to securing the future of London’s parks and greenspaces and improving access for all. By regenerating unused commercial spaces into new homes, we can ensure that residents enjoy a higher quality of life with a higher possibility of green spaces in their local area.
This new Class MA PD rights will come into effect on 1st August 2021 and covers a range of uses in the new Class E, including offices, shops, restaurants, cafes, health services, nurseries, gyms and leisure uses.
We have summarized the key points that you need to be aware of when considering turning commercial spaces to residential under the new PD Rights.
- 1,500 square metre size restriction. The government has placed limits on the size of the buildings that can be converted. Buildings with over 1,500 square metres of floorspace will be exempt from the new rules, in order to focus the right on medium sized high street sites which are more likely to be suitable for conversion.
- Three-month vacancy requirement. Applicants will need to show that the class E building has been vacant for three continuous months immediately before the date of application for prior approval. It is important to note that the time that a premise is closed as a result of Covid-19 restrictions will not count towards this period.
- Correct commercial usage for at least 2 years. Applicants will need to demonstrate that the building has been in class E use for at least two years before the application. Because class E was only introduced last autumn, “time served in the uses in former use classes now within the Commercial Business and Service use class, such as A1 (shops), and D1 (b) (non-residential institutions – crèche, day nursery or day centre), will count towards this period”, says the memorandum.
- Prior approval process. The new homes will be delivered through a simpler ‘prior approval’ process instead of a full planning application and will be subject to high standards. This will ensure that homes provide adequate natural light and meet space standards.
We recommend talking to a range of experts including local agents and an architect so you can ensure to employ the most ethical approach to develop high-quality homes that enrich local communities. If you or your organisation are considering commercial-to-residential conversion, calfordseaden are here to help with any advice you may need.
If you would like to find out more about commercial to residential developments under the new PD rights, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to register your interest for our upcoming CPD Seminar.