Outside glass view of RPC building.

Office to residential development crusade continues

16 October 2015

As part of the Government's ongoing crusade to get homes built, the office to residential permitted development right, previously set to expire in May 2016, has been made permanent.

In addition, new permitted development rights will allow a change of use for light industrial buildings (including, for those that are interested, launderettes) and the right will, in future, allow the demolition of office buildings and new building for residential purposes. Both of these additional rights will be subject to limitations and prior approval by the local planning authority, but further details have not yet been provided.

Where there are already permissions in place, developers will have three years to complete the conversion, but it is not clear from Housing and Planning Minister Brandon Lewis' statement, when the three year period would begin or what is meant by "complete" (a concept which has already been the subject of much debate).

For those developers in the City of London (and in the 16 other local authorities where the exemption regime applies – the effect of the exemption regime is that these 17 local authorities still require a full planning application for a change of use from office to residential) the current exemption regime will continue until May 2019, after which all exemptions will be removed. If those local authorities want to continue to require a planning application for a change of use from office to residential, then they must make an Article 4 direction before May 2019.

Whilst these changes no doubt give developers the certainty they were looking for and offer increased flexibility for a number of buildings across the country, the changes are unlikely to satisfy the Minister's aim of providing a million new homes by 2020 (bearing in mind that just 4,000 conversions were approved between April 2014 and June 2015) and, with the ability for the City of London to continue its exemption beyond 2019, the changes may bring fewer smiles to the faces of the capital city's developers.