Just when you thought that the Planning system had been shaken-up enough in 2020, last week the Government launched an unexpected consultation, suggesting that by revising the General Permitted Development Order Class E uses could be allowed to change to residential.
Class E is, of course, itself new having been introduced on 1 September 2020 and covering a broad range of uses including former use classes A1 (shops), A2 (financial and professional), A3 (restaurants and cafes) as well as parts of D1 (non-residential institutions – including crèche, day nursery and day centres) and D2 (assembly and leisure - indoor sport, fitness and recreation), offices (B1a), research and development (B1b) and light industrial (B1c) and put them all into one new use class (Class E).
If this change to permitted development comes into effect, it would significantly broaden the scope of the existing residential conversion rights as it would not only apply to offices and light industrial but also to retail, restaurants, gyms, medical facilities and crèches.
The potential to change use to residential would apply to all Class E buildings regardless of scale, although sites within AONB’s and National Parks would be excluded, as would Listed Buildings, but not Conservation Areas. The Local Planning Authority would retain control where an Article 4 Direction or planning condition restricts changes of use.
The consultation also suggests that any change of use would be subject to a prior approval process covering: flooding, transport (particularly to ensure safe site access), contamination, the impacts of noise from existing commercial premises, the provision of adequate natural light in all habitable rooms, fire safety, and the impact on the intended occupiers from the introduction of residential use in an area the authority considers is important for heavy industry and waste management.
The increased flexibility to change use to residential has been predicated partly on the need to support town centres. The consultation document states: ‘Where there is a surplus of retail floorspace, quality residential development will help diversify and support the high street. It will create new housing opportunities including for those who will benefit from close proximity to services, such as the elderly and those living with disabilities. It will also make effective use of existing commercial buildings, bring additional footfall from new residents, and assist in the wider regeneration of town centre and other locations’
The concern is that without some planning control to consolidate retail uses, town centres may become more dissipated. Furthermore, the rights are not limited to high street properties, but as drafted, would apply to retail parks and other locations away from the town and city centre. On the other hand, there is a real opportunity for commercial landlords to consider residential conversion rather than other commercial uses given the inevitable increase vacancy which is likely to occur in the coming months.
You can find more about the consultation and how to respond here: Supporting housing delivery and public service infrastructure
The consultation closes on 28 January 2021.
If you would like to discuss the implications of the intended changes please contact DMH Stallard's Planning team.