Supporting Housing Delivery & Public Service Infrastructure: Planning Consultation

As part of its ongoing programme of planning reform and deregulation, Central Government has published a consultation paper setting out further proposed reforms on the following:

  •  A new national Permitted Development right for the change of use of Commercial, Business and Service or E Class to Residential.

  • Supporting public service infrastructure.

  • Consolidation and simplification of existing Permitted Development rights.

The consultation paper is available here and is running until 28th January 2021 via an online survey.We summarise the key proposed changes and comment on the implications below.

Class E to Residential

Following the introduction of Class E, it is proposed to provide greater flexibility to allow the uses in this Class to change to residential.  This is identified to support housing delivery, generate footfall and re-use commercial buildings that may otherwise be left empty.  This would come into effect from 1st August 2021.The right is proposed to replace the existing office to residential (“Class O”) and retail to residential (“Class M”) rights.  It will apply to all buildings which have been in Class E since 1st September 2020 when the new use class came into effect.  As before the planning history of a building will need to be carefully reviewed as there may be restrictions preventing a change of use via this route.These are significant proposals to increase the range and type of buildings that could be converted in order to increase supply.  To provide significant flexibility, it is proposed that there will be no size limit on the buildings that can be converted excluding schemes that involve EIA development.  .  It will also not apply in areas of constraint (defined as Article 2(3) land) such as AONBs.  It is however proposed to allow the right to apply in Conservation Areas given the number that are in Town Centres. Part of the Prior Approval process will then be an assessment of the impact of the loss of the ground floor use to residential.  It will be interesting to see whether the impact is qualified as an assessment solely on conservation issues or whether by virtue of the wording actually allows for consideration of wider issues such as the vitality and viability of Town Centres.Due to the criticism that has been made regarding the quality of homes being created via the permitted development, any conversion will need to be assessed via the Prior Approval route against the usual considerations including new homes having to meet the nationally described space standards.The proposal is a significant one for the future of our High Streets.  There is no doubt that they are suffering due to the impact of the pandemic and the change in consumer shopping habits.  The objective of increasing the amount of residential development in Town Centres is partly justified by that in order to increase footfall in Centres and the level of vitality and natural surveillance in them.  This also reflects the trend for Town Centre regeneration to focus on the introduction of forms of residential such as Build to Rent rather than retail through the right-sizing of Centres.   The level of change does however need to be carefully managed to ensure the retail and service character and function of Town Centres is not watered down or lost completely.  There may also be unforeseen consequences including the effect of introducing residential dwellings in proximity to evening / night-time uses and fragmenting ownership further which will prevent future redevelopment schemes.  We can expect Local Authorities to increase the use of Article 4 Directions to control the level of change.The cost of making a Prior Approval application for this type of development is also proposed to increase by £96 per dwellinghouse created.  This will be made via a separate change to the Fee Regulations.We will continue to monitor this proposal and will report again on the final secondary legislation before it comes into effect.

Public Service Infrastructure

Linked with the Spending Review, it is proposed to provide greater flexibility for extending education and hospital buildings.  The existing permitted development right is proposed to be increased to allow schools, colleges, universities and hospitals to increase their facilities by up to 25% of the footprint of the current buildings or up to 250 sq.m whichever is the greater.  The height limited is also proposed to be raised from 5m to 6m.  This introduces the additional requirement to understand fire safety considerations.  This appears to be a sensible move for an area of legislation that offers flexibility for public service institutions.Where investment is proposed that exceeds permitted development and requires planning permission, it is proposed to prioritise these projects and speed up decision-making by providing shorter timescales for determination within a new sub-category of mayor development which means that such types of applications could be dealt with within 10 weeks rather than 13 weeks.  This excludes EIA development.  This will be achieved in part by reducing the consultation period from 21 to 14 days. LPAs are also encouraged to prioritise any post-emission approvals such as Reserved Matters.This is a well meant proposal and whilst the consultation paper recognises it could lead to resource pressures on LPAs, it does not offer any practical solutions to address this long-standing problem.The modified process is also proposed to apply to hospitals, schools, further education colleges and prisons.  An amendment will be made to NPPF paragraph 94 to include prioritising such uses.  Universities have been excluded which appears to be a significant omission given the level of investment this sector has made and the need for support for future investment via the planning system.  It appears from the comments made at paragraph 41 that this is linked to types of developments supported by government funding which does not necessarily apply to Universities.There is no identified timescale for these changes to be made.

Consolidation and simplification of Permitted Development Rights

With the changes that have occurred to the Use Classes Order, it is proposed to amend the Permitted Development Order to reflect the changes.  This includes consolidation of the various uses affected by the Class E change.  The proposals identified are intended to simplify the secondary legislation and iron out any inconsistencies and appear largely logical.  This is certainly welcome as the Order has become overly complicated at a time when the system is supposed to be being made more effective and transparent.

Next Steps

If you require any further advice or assistance on the matters raised by this consultation we will be pleased to help you (contact us).  Otherwise we will report again once the outcome of the consultation is known and introduced via changes to secondary legislation and guidance.


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.

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