New PD right allowing for town-centre Commercial to Residential to come into effect in August 2021

The government's controversial proposal to allow a range of town centre uses to convert to housing under a new permitted development (PD) right will come into effect at the start of August and will include a 1,500 square metre size restriction and a three-month vacancy requirement, it has been announced.

The proposal was laid before parliament at the end of March and subsequently enacted despite calls from leading public sector bodies RTPI, CIOB, RIBA and RICS to the prime minister to “urgently reconsider” the format of the new right.

In an open letter to Boris Johnson, the executives from the four bodies claimed that the measures “will pull the rug out from under high street businesses that you have supported throughout unprecedented circumstances. Just as they prepare to reopen with our great unlocking, their future is put in peril.”

However, despite resistance from the professional bodies, the MHCLG confirmed that it would introduce a new PD right allowing unused buildings in the class E commercial use class - which covers retail, light industrial, gyms and swimming pools - to convert to housing to come into effect on 1 August.

The legislation defines the PD right as:

"Development consisting of a change of use of a building and any land within its curtilage from a use falling within Class E (commercial, business and service) of Schedule 2 to the Use Classes Order to a use falling within Class C3 (dwellinghouses) of Schedule 1 to that Order."

The ministry added that the new right will allow for limited local consideration by the local planning authority of specific planning matters through the prior approval process. These considerations include:

  • transport impacts of the development, particularly to ensure safe site access;

  • contamination risks in relation to the building;

  • flooding risks in relation to the building;

  • impacts of noise from commercial premises on the intended occupiers of the development;

  • where the building is located in a conservation area, and the development involves a change of use of the whole or part of the ground floor, the impact of that change of use on the character or sustainability of the conservation area;

  • the provision of adequate natural light in all habitable rooms of the dwellinghouses;

  • the impact on intended occupiers of the development of the introduction of residential use in an area the authority considers to be important for general or heavy industry, waste management, storage and distribution, or a mix of such uses;

  • where the development involves the loss of services provided by a registered nursery, or a health centre maintained under section 2 or 3 of the National Health Service Act 2006, the impact on the local provision of the type of services lost.

Communities secretary Robert Jenrick said: "We are creating the most small business-friendly planning system in the world to provide the flexibility needed for high streets to bounce back from the pandemic.

"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.

Two of the most contentious points were: a) whether the permitted development right should apply in Conservation Areas; and b) whether the right would be subject to a floorspace limit.

Going against the consultation feedback from the public bodies, the MHCLG announced that freeholders with buildings in Conservation Areas would benefit from the PD right and that, only buildings over 1,500 sq. m. would be exempt.

We are already working with owners who are hoping to make use of the new rules come 1st August 2021. If you have buildings which may benefit as a result of the changes then don’t hesitate to get in contact.