Demolition and Redevelopment of Vacant Residential/Commercial Buildings

The Government have announced significant proposals for new permitted development rights in England.In this post we consider the proposed new permitted development right allowing the demolition and rebuilding of “vacant and redundant” office, light industrial buildings and single purpose-built detached blocks of flats as homes without planning permission. The draft legislation is here and changes are due to come into effect on 31 August 2020.The new legislation creates in England a new permitted development (PD) right, Class ZA, which allows for the “Demolition of buildings and construction of new dwelling houses in their place”. Full planning permission will no longer be required but Prior Approval will need to be obtained from the relevant local planning authority.The new Class ZA PD right will apply to free-standing buildings that on the 12 March 2020 fall within the B1(a) offices, B1(b) research and development, B1(c) industrial processes (light industrial) use classes or are free-standing purpose-built residential blocks of flats (C3) or any combination of those uses.The Class ZA PD right allows for the demolition of the existing building, and erection of a single building either as a detached dwelling house or a detached block of flats. The new building can only be 7 m and two storeys taller than the old building, and a maximum of 18 m above ground level. Importantly the new building must be built within the footprint of the old building. As such it is worth noting that facilities for waste or storage must be accommodated within the new building.In order to benefit from the Class ZA PD right the building must have been vacant for at least 6 months immediately prior to the date of the application for prior approval. There is no condition that limits the use of this PD right if the building has been made vacant for this purpose.To use Class ZA the old building must also:

  • Not be, amongst other exemptions, listed or in a Conservation Area;
  • Not exceed 18 metres above ground level at any point;
  • Not have been constructed after 31 December 1989;
  • Not have a footprint exceeding 1,000 sq m;
  • Not have been made unsafe i.e. due to inaction of the landowner; and
  • Not be “relevant demolition” for the purposes of section 196D (demolition of an unlisted etc building in a conservation area).

The new Class ZA right allows for consideration of specific planning matters through the Prior Approval process. These include:

  • the transport and highways impacts of the development;
  • contamination and flooding risks;
  • the impact of noise from any commercial premises on the future residents;
  • the design and external appearance of the new building;
  • the plans for landscaping of the development;
  • the method of demolition of the old building;
  • the adequacy of natural light in all habitable rooms of each new dwelling house;
  • the impact on business and new residents of the introduction of residential use into an area; and
  • the impact of the development on the amenity of the new building and of neighbouring premises, including overlooking, privacy and light.

The application fee will be around two-thirds of a planning application fee.Any Prior Approval will be subject to the following conditions:

  • That the redevelopment must be completed within 3 years from the grant of the Prior Approval;
  • Pre-commencement condition for the agreement with the local authority of a construction management report (including how to mitigate adverse impacts of noise, dust and vibration and the proposed use of materials), which the developer must then comply with when carrying out the development;
  • Notification of the completion date; and
  • Any new dwelling house must remain as a C3 use, except if the other purpose is ancillary to the primary use as a dwelling house.

Initial commentsRealistically we consider that this new Class ZA PD right may be used more widely at out-of-centre sites given that in-centre sites are less likely to be free-standing. The new Class ZA PD right may assist in fuelling the loss of out-of-centre employment floor space.Given that the Class ZA PD right does not enable the re-build to extend beyond the original building's footprint it may be that practically the Class ZA PD right could be used as more of a “fall-back” position when applying for planning permission. This may assist with arguments where a development results in a loss of employment space, and where that employment space is protected by Local Planning Policies.The prior approval process allows for consideration of design and external appearance of the proposal, residential amenity of the new building and neighbouring properties as well as impact of the proposal on surrounding businesses. Local Planning Policies which relate to this matter will still therefore be relevant. As such the issues which are up for discussion with the Local Planning Authority are still wide ranging and Prior Approval may not always be easy to secure.Like any other Permitted Development works, CIL liability (subject to exemptions and reliefs) will be applicable (if applicable in a given area) but affordable housing will not be required. Given the extent of the recent PD changes to create residential dwellings we wonder whether the Government may alter the Planning Practice Guidance to facilitate some form of affordable housing provision.It is worth remembering that greater flexibility via permitted development rights does not mean that using them will be appropriate/possible, for example:

  • Are any restrictions within the existing planning permission(s) and associated section 106 planning obligations;
  • Is any current/historic enforcement action;
  • Signage/advertisement consent;
  • Building regulation requirements;
  • Right to light potential issues; and
  • Any restrictions imposed in the title documentation, including any lease.

If you have a site which may meet the criteria our team of in-house chartered town planners are here to assist and are backed up by our specialist planning lawyers. You can find contact details here.We would also refer to our other articles which note the key points and the potential impact of the other recently announced PD rights being:


The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.