Open consultation on change of use from commercial to residential Permitted Development rightsMake Text Bigger
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has launched an open consultation seeking views on proposed measures to support housing delivery, economic recovery, and public service infrastructure in England. Click here to download the full proposal
This technical consultation seeks views on a proposed new permitted development right for the change of use from Commercial, Business and Service use to residential to create new homes, measures to support public service infrastructure through the planning system, and the approach to simplifying and consolidating existing permitted development rights following changes to the Use Classes Order.
The consultation is open to everyone and will run from 3 December 2020 to 28 January 2021. You can respond by using the online survey.
A response pro-forma is provided on the website. Emails should be sent to:
When you reply it would be very useful if you confirm whether you are replying as an individual or submitting an official response on behalf of an organisation and include: your name, your position (if applicable) and the name of organisation (if applicable)
1. The government is committed to reshaping the planning system to make it accessible, efficient, and more predictable. Our Planning for the future white paper sets out a vision for the planning system, one that has full local plan coverage, simpler planning application processes and is supported by digital technologies. We need to address the need for a dynamic system which responds to market needs while safeguarding the environment and amenity of local people. Our consultation on our new vision for planning closed on 29 October, and we will be setting out our next steps in due course.
2. While Planning for the future sets out our longer-term ambitions, we want at the same time to continue to explore more immediate changes to the planning system to provide greater planning certainty and flexibility to ensure that it can effectively contribute to some of the immediate challenges facing the country. These include supporting the economic future of our high streets and town centres, supporting jobs, and the faster delivery of our schools and hospitals.
3. Changing consumer behaviour presents a significant challenge for retailers in our town centres. High streets and town centres have felt the effect of structural changes in consumer spending and retailing such as the shift to online shopping for a number of years, but over the 12 months from June 2019 to June 2020 there has been a net reduction of 5,350 units in town centres in England. The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified these problems. We want to support our town centres and high streets in adapting to these changes to become thriving, vibrant hubs where people live, shop, use services, and spend their leisure time. We are delivering long-term structural support through a range of interventions, including investment from the £3.6 billion Towns Fund. We have brought forward over £80m of this funding this year through the Future High Street Fund to support immediate improvements in town centres. The fund will support local areas in England to renew and reshape town centres and high streets in a way that improves experience, creates jobs, and ensures future sustainability.
4. To provide greater flexibility and enable businesses to respond rapidly to changing market demands from 1 September 2020 we introduced a new planning use class. The Commercial, Business and Service use class includes uses generally found on the high street such as shops, banks and restaurants, and broadens it to encompass a wider range of uses such as gyms, creches and offices. This provides greater flexibility to move between such uses, and to provide for a mix of such uses, without the need for a planning application.
5. 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. Repurposing of brownfield sites is better for the environment and reduces the need for greenfield development. In his ‘Build, Build, Build’ statement of 30 June 2020 the Prime Minister said that we would provide for a wider range of commercial buildings to be allowed to change to residential use without the need for a planning application. To meet this aim, support housing delivery and bring more residential use into our high streets and town centres, boosting footfall and creating additional demand, we propose to introduce a new national permitted development right for the change of use from the new Commercial, Business and Service use class to residential use. The new right would help support economic recovery, housing delivery and the regeneration of our high streets and town centres. Part 1 of this consultation seeks views on the proposed right to deliver on these aims.
6. Separately, we want also to ensure planning supports the faster delivery of the new schools, hospitals, and other public service infrastructure developments which the country needs. In the National Infrastructure Strategy published alongside the Spending Review on 25 November 2020, the government has set out an ambitious long-term investment strategy to improve the country’s infrastructure and public services.
7. As part of this strategy, we want to ensure the planning system does not unduly cause delays to public service infrastructure improvements. In Part 2 of this consultation, we propose to amend existing permitted development rights to allow schools, colleges and universities, hospitals and prisons to expand and adapt their buildings as they respond to changing demands and ways of working, without the need to seek planning permission.
8. We also want to speed up local decision making on planning applications for larger hospital, school, further education college and prison development, including development on new sites. Part 2 of the consultation sets out our proposals for a faster planning application process for these types of development. It is important that local planning authorities prioritise these key applications given that they will enhance public services.
9. Finally, Part 3 of the consultation seeks views on the proposed approach to the consolidation and simplification of some existing permitted development rights, including those which provide for change of use between use classes.
1. Supporting housing delivery through a new national permitted development right for the change of use from the Commercial, Business and Service use class to residential
10. Permitted development rights provide a national grant of permission for specific types of development set out in legislation. The rights provide a more streamlined planning process with greater planning certainty, while at the same time allowing for local consideration of key planning matters through the prior approval process. They have been increasingly used to support the delivery of new homes. In the 5 years to March 2020, permitted development rights for the change of use provided 72,687 new homes. Such rights make the best use of existing buildings, supporting brownfield development and avoiding the need to build on greenfield sites.
11. While the majority of homes that are being delivered are of good quality, a few have been unacceptably small or without windows. The government has therefore introduced new quality requirements for this planning process; bringing forward legislation to require that all new homes delivered under such rights meet the nationally described space standards and provide for adequate natural light. All homes are required to meet building regulations, including in respect of fire safety, regardless of the route to planning permission. Going further, we sought views through the consultation on the Planning for the future white paper on whether the proposed Infrastructure Levy would also apply to permitted development rights. Consideration is being given to responses to that consultation and further announcements will be made in due course.
12. To support our high streets and town centres, from 1 September 2020 we introduced a new Commercial, Business and Service use class, enabling these premises to quickly adapt to changing market demands and provide a mix of retail, commercial and leisure uses. This use class groups together a range of uses commonly found on high streets and town centres and provides for movement between such uses without the need for a planning application. While such uses are often found in town centres, in practice the use classes apply everywhere, in all cases. The Commercial, Business and Service use class comprises:
Class E. Commercial, Business and Service
Use, or part use, for all or any of the following purposes—
(a)for the display or retail sale of goods, other than hot food, principally to visiting members of the public,
(b)for the sale of food and drink principally to visiting members of the public where consumption of that food and drink is mostly undertaken on the premises,
(c)for the provision of the following kinds of services principally to visiting members of the public—
(ii)professional services (other than health or medical services), or
(iii)any other services which it is appropriate to provide in a commercial, business or service locality,
(d)for indoor sport, recreation or fitness, not involving motorised vehicles or firearms, principally to visiting members of the public,
(e)for the provision of medical or health services, principally to visiting members of the public, except the use of premises attached to the residence of the consultant or practitioner,
(f)for a creche, day nursery or day centre, not including a residential use, principally to visiting members of the public,
(i)an office to carry out any operational or administrative functions,
(ii)the research and development of products or processes, or
(iii)any industrial process,
being a use, which can be carried out in any residential area without detriment to the amenity of that area by reason of noise, vibration, smell, fumes, smoke, soot, ash, dust or grit.
13. Having first simplified the change of use in such cases, we want now to build on this providing further flexibility to allow this broader range of uses to change to residential use. This will support housing delivery and attract the additional footfall that new residents will bring. Current permitted development rights already provide for shops, financial and professional services, and offices to change to residential use, and these will continue to apply until 31 July 2021. We propose to draw these together into a single right that provides for the change of use from any use within the Commercial, Business and Service use class to residential (C3). This single right would provide clarity and greater planning certainty and support the delivery of a significant number of additional homes, developing brownfield sites and making effective use of existing commercial buildings and help to prevent them being left empty. All homes would be required to meet the nationally described space standards. This will come into effect from 1 August 2021.
14. This consultation invites views on the proposed right. Any right would be introduced via secondary legislation and apply in England only. As with all permitted development rights, other regulations such as Environmental Impact Assessment and Habitats Regulations would apply.
The proposed right
15. It is proposed that the right would allow for the change of use from any use, or mix of uses, within the Commercial, Business and Service use class (Class E – see paragraph 12 above) to residential use (C3). The right would replace the current rights for the change of use from office to residential (Part 3, Class O of Schedule 2 to the General Permitted Development Order), and from retail etc to residential (Part 3, Class M of the General Permitted Development Order) which remain in force until 31 July 2021. (See also Part 3 of this consultation document in respect of consequential changes.) It will go significantly beyond existing rights, allowing for restaurants, indoor sports, and creches etc to benefit from the change use to residential under permitted development rights for the first time. The protections in respect of pubs, including those with an expanded food offer, theatres, and live music venues, all of which are outside of this use class, continue to apply and a full planning application is always required for the change of use to or from such uses.
16. The Commercial, Business and Service use class applies everywhere in all cases, not just on the high street or in town centres. In order to benefit from the right premises must have been in the Commercial, Business and Service use class on 1 September 2020 when the new use classes came into effect.
Size of the buildings to which the right might apply
17. Building on the delivery success of the permitted development right for the change of use from office to residential, it is proposed that there be no size limit on the buildings that can benefit from the right. The right would allow for the building, or part of the building, to change use, rather than lying vacant for example. It is recognised that some retail and office buildings in particular could be a substantial size, and therefore result in a significant number of new homes, the impacts of which would be managed through prior approvals. Permitted development rights do not apply to development that is screened as requiring an Environmental Impact Assessment.
Q1 Do you agree that there should be no size limit on the buildings that could benefit from the new permitted development right to change use from Commercial, Business and Service (Class E) to residential (C3)?
Please give your reasons.
Where the right might apply
18. In certain areas it may be appropriate to allow for individual local consideration of such development. It is therefore proposed that similar to other existing rights, the right would not apply to: sites of special scientific interest; listed buildings and land within their curtilage; sites that are or contain scheduled monuments; safety hazard areas; military explosives storage areas and sites subject to an agricultural tenancy.
19. Existing and previous rights for the change of use to residential, with the exception of office to residential, do not generally apply in article 2(3) land: conservation areas, areas of outstanding natural beauty, the Broads, National Parks, areas specified by the Secretary of State for the purposes of section 41(3) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and World Heritage Sites. However, some high streets and town centres are designated conservation areas, and therefore include many of the uses that could benefit from the right, and residents that could benefit from the conversions. Such areas may be designated as conservation areas for their architectural and historical value and allowing a more diverse range of uses could attract more people to enjoy them and make them more sustainable. It is proposed that while the right would not apply in other sensitive article 2(3) land, such as national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, it would apply in conservation areas. However, in recognition of the conservation value that retail frontage can bring to conservation areas the right would allow for prior approval of the impact of the loss of the ground floor use to residential.
Q2.1 Do you agree that the right should not apply in areas of outstanding natural beauty, the Broads, National Parks, areas specified by the Secretary of State for the purposes of section 41(3) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and World Heritage Sites?
Please give your reasons.
Q2.2 Do you agree that the right should apply in conservation areas?
Please give your reasons.
Q2.3 Do you agree that, in conservation areas only, the right should allow for prior approval of the impact of the loss of ground floor use to residential?
Please give your reasons.
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