- Class E to residential rights
Class E to residential rights
Class E to residential rights30th June 2021 - Published by Kuits Planning team
The Government announced at the end of last year that in order to allow for a far wider range of buildings to be used for residential purposes, they would consult upon the introduction of expanded Permitted Development rights. The consultation paper framed these rights as serving a dual purpose of increasing housing numbers and bringing life back to underused town centres, with the overarching aim of reinvigorating the economy. Industry body reaction was mostly negative, with many property professionals believing that this was a PD right too far, especially following the raft of planning legislation changes in the last six months. The Government took note and watered down its proposals.
What is class E?
The new PD rights will come into force just less than a year after the introduction of the broadest use class in the 1987 Use Classes Order’s history; class E (commercial and business use) covers any building used for financial and professional services, restaurants and cafes, offices, shops, medical services, light industry, nurseries or gyms. The effect of a wide use class such as this is that a property may be swapped between all of the uses within class E without it being classed as development. The use class also allows the same building to encompass a variety of class E uses at different times of the day; in broad terms, a building may be a café in the morning, a shop in the day and a restaurant at night. All of these class E uses may now become residential use (use class C3) if certain criteria are met.
The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) Order 2021 class MA is therefore a powerful new right that will grant deemed planning permission for the change of use from commercial and business use to residential. The new rights allow far greater flexibility in many respects; the number of uses within class E from which there can be a change to class C3 is unprecedented, but the hurdles to be met are higher than the office (use class B1) to residential rights.
The limits include, for example:
- A limit of 1500 square metres of floorspace changing to the class C3 use. Note that these rights can apply to part of existing floorspace as long as the maximum is not breached.
- That the class E use, including time in former uses now within that class, has been in existence for two years
- That the property has been vacant for at least three continuous months
- Subject to prior approval of the local planning authority on specific planning items such as transport, contamination, flooding, noise and adequate sunlight
- A requirement to serve notice on adjoining occupiers
- If the property is within a conservation area, a consideration of the impact of the proposals on the character of the conservation area
- Consideration of the impact on residential occupiers if the area the property is situated in is within an industrial area
- The new rights will allow residential use into high streets and town centres, with the aim of increasing retail and leisure footfall and reinvigorating vacant or underused properties. This regeneration would also support the economic recovery of both the housing and retail sectors badly hit by the pandemic.
- A requirement for the floorspace of the new residential units to meet minimum standards
- If the class E use is a registered nursery or health centre, an impact assessment on this loss will be required
- That the development be completed within three years of the date of the prior approval
Many critics of PD rights hoped for there to be an affordable housing requirement to be imposed upon this new PD right. However, as with office to residential, one of the benefits of this PD right is that there is no affordable housing requirement to be met by the developer, therefore increasing the viability of schemes made less practical by the requirement for a minimum space threshold to be met and daylight in habitable rooms. It remains to be seen whether developers with sites in more traditional housing locations will have to ‘soak up’ the lack of affordable housing on class E to residential sites by increasing their delivery to meet the planning authority’s targets.
The character of a town centre may well be changed by the introduction of residential use at ground floor level, but it should be remembered that a planning application will need to be made if there are any external works required as a result of this change of use. It remains to be seen how traditional glass shop frontages will be changed without the need to apply for planning permission, but still provide an attractive frontage for occupiers. Although the changes do, at first sight, seem broad, the Government has introduced so many criteria to be met and items for prior approval by the planning authority, that there may be, in practical terms, little difference between the use of this PD rights and a planning application for changes of use (which can of course then include any operational development required).
Although there is concern about the changes to the country’s high streets, those who have walked through smaller town centres in the last five years will be aware of the prevalence of vacant units and tired appearance of these once bustling streets and many big name stores, once the retail anchor to draw shoppers in, have closed. During the pandemic, the focus of people’s shopping habits has been more towards online shopping or retail park visits. The need for new housing is, as always, critical, in particular in light of the Government’s high housing target to be met by 2024. Office to residential PD rights were eagerly taken up by property owners and have been a highly effective way of getting first time buyers on the housing ladder. The new rights will expand on this, but this time with some of the criticisms of the previous power addressed by the requirement for homes to meet minimum space and light requirements. These rights could well be the boost that the high street needs in a post-pandemic world.