In October 2015, we reported on the government’s plans to make office-to-resi permitted development rights permanent. The amended right came into force on 6 April 2016 and contains the following key provisions:
1. A new prior approval test which requires local planning authorities to consider ‘impacts of noise from commercial premises on the intended occupiers of the development’
This new limb is designed to allow local planning authorities to consider mitigation to counter noise from surrounding commercial uses. Mitigation is most likely to be required where the site is in close proximity to major industrial uses, railway lines or motorways. This requirement sits alongside the existing prior approval considerations of: (i) transport and highway impacts; (ii) contamination risks; and (iii) flooding risks.
2. A new deadline for completion of the conversion
Under the amended right, the conversion from office to residential use must be completed within a period of three years starting with the prior approval date. This replaces the old deadline that required development to be completed by 31 May 2016.
3. Removal of existing exemptions
With effect from 31 May 2019, the areas that currently benefit from exemption from this permitted development right (including areas of central London) will be removed from the exemption. If a local authority wishes to restrict the right in those or any other areas beyond this date, it will need to bring into force an article 4 direction to that effect.
The principal aims behind making this permitted development right permanent are: (i) to encourage timely housing delivery; and (ii) to focus that delivery on built locations and to ease pressure on the green belt. However, planning permission will still be required for material external alterations. The government has not (as many had expected) extended permitted development rights to allow offices to be demolished and replaced by residential accommodation.
The amended office-to-residential right is subject to a review mechanism which commits the Secretary of State to a first review before 6 April 2021. Therefore, whilst the rights are here to stay in their current form (for now) there remains plenty of scope for future changes.