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When can an office building be converted into residential units without planning permission?

On 1 April 2016, temporary permitted development rights, introduced in 2013, were made permanent. These enable offices to be converted into new homes without the need to apply for planning permission.

In this article, we provide a recap on what can be done without planning permission.

I want to change an office building to residential units, what do I need to do?

Although a change of use from offices to residential will not require planning permission, anyone wishing to carry out such a development must apply for prior approval.

A developer must apply for prior approval in relation to:

  • Transport and highways impacts of the development;
  • Contamination risks on the site;
  • Flooding risks on the site; and
  • Impacts of noise from commercial premises on the intended occupiers of the development.

Pubs and places of entertainment are included as "commercial premises", the noise from which will be taken into account.

Is there a time limit for completing the development?

The development must be completed within 3 years of the date of prior approval.

What about article 2(5) land?

Some land, the majority of which is in London, was exempted from the effect of the temporary permitted development right. This is known as article 2(5) land.

From 30 May 2019, if a local planning authority wants to withdraw, or restrict, the permitted development rights, it will have to make an article 4 direction However, article 4 directions can only be made in exceptional circumstances so the local planning authority will need to be able to show these.

Are there any other cases in which the permitted development rights will not apply?

An office to residential conversion will not fall within the permitted development right if it was not being used as offices on 29 May 2013. . In addition, if it was not being used as an office on that day, if the most recent use before that day was not an office use, the permitted development right would also not be available. 

Other cases in which the permitted development rights will not apply include where you are dealing with a listed property.

There is disagreement as to whether the right to convert office buildings to residential units without the need for planning permission will, actually, go any way towards solving the housing crisis. Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is of the firm view that it will not and has stated his intention to assist central London boroughs in introducing article 4 directions. Local planning authorities will need to consider whether the exceptional circumstances exist that are required to justify the making of an article 4 direction.

Developers wishing to take advantage of the permitted development right need to:

  • Until 30 May 2019, check to see if the property falls within an area of article 2(5) land;
  • Check to see if an article 4 direction has been made, withdrawing the permitted development right;
  • Ensure that there are no other circumstances that may mean that the permitted development right does not apply;
  • Make an application for prior approval; and
  • Complete the development within 3 years of the prior approval date.

Whether or not permitted development rights apply can be complex, so you should seek specialist advice on the issues.

Contributor: Alexandra Holsgrove Jones

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at August 2017. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.

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