Further changes to office to residential development: minimum space requirements - Kuits Solicitors Manchester
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Further changes to office to residential development: minimum space requirements

Further changes to office to residential development: minimum space requirements

9th June 2021 - Published by Kuits Planning team

Permitted development rights have seen significant changes and extension to their scope since their introduction after the Second World War, where the need to rebuild and uplift the housing supply was paramount. Since 2013, in a bid to boost house building numbers, it has been possible to convert offices into homes under permitted development rights, thus circumventing most of the usual regulatory scrutiny of the local planning authority. With around 15,000 additional net dwellings created from former office buildings delivered year on year, this has largely been a successful delivery of new dwellings, but has not come without some heavy criticism.

A new way of increasing housing delivery

The under delivery of housing has often been a thorn in governments’ sides. In 2011, the government announced that they conceived a new and quicker way of addressing this issue, by allowing underused and outdated offices to be changed to residential use without jumping through the hoops of the planning application process.

Developers lead the charge

Removing the requirement to apply for planning permission for office to residential saw an intense and immediate surge in this type of change of use.

Government statistics showing the number of applications for prior approvals for office to residential between spring 2014 and summer 2020 evidence its popularity. In the first three months of the new rights coming into force, there were over a thousand applications to District Councils across the Country which is in sharp contrast to the previous ten years, when express planning applications for office to residential numbered in the hundreds per year.

A permanent right curtailed over time

The changes were rolled out for a three-year trial period beginning in May 2013 and from the start, local planning authorities were not in favour of housing being deregulated in this way. Nevertheless, before the temporary period ended in April 2016, the permitted development right was made permanent – although not before the extent of the deregulation began to be curtailed by the introduction of the ‘prior approval’ process. The prior approval process is a ‘light touch’ review and approval of the application, whereby local planning authorities can assess a strictly limited range of issues, such the highways and noise impacts of the proposed development, before the conversion can take place.

Improving standards

In July 2020, the Government commissioned a review of the quality standard of homes delivered through office to residential permitted development rights. This review drew attention to the very lack of standards present in some conversions.  It considered that a minority of developers were able to exploit the permitted development system and create “worse quality residential environments than planning permission conversions in relation to a number of factors widely linked to the health, wellbeing and quality of life of future occupiers”.

Alan Jones, President of the Royal Institute of British Architects, stated that allowing landowners and developers to bypass the full planning processes had allowed inadequate and poor quality homes to be built, with little to no natural light and rooms ‘smaller than in budget hotels’. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors also reported that in certain cities, only one per cent of the new homes created had any access to private or even communal amenity space; something that has increased in value in recent times.

In August 2020, the Government announced that all new office to residential conversions would be required to have adequate natural light in all habitable rooms, which we commented on in our “Onwards and upwards with permitted development rights reforms” article at the time.

Further measures

As there has previously been no regulation of the size of homes constructed in converted office spaces, they could be smaller than the Nationally Described Space Standard’s official minimum of thirty seven square metres for single occupancy homes. The Government found that some studio flats in permitted development schemes measured as little as sixteen square metres.

In an attempt to put further controls on development where the market had not, the Government announced further requirements for office to residential conversions in September 2020. From April 2021, new dwellings are now required to meet minimum space requirements of no less than thirty seven square metres or comply with the Nationally Prescribed Space Standards. However, it is interesting to note that, unless a planning authority has chosen to adopt its own minimum space standards, apartments constructed by the more traditional route are not required to meet these minimums. Indeed, as the housing shortage increases, the average size of new houses decreases.

In practice

  • From April 2021, homes delivered through permitted development rights must meet prescribed space standards.
  • The space standard begins at 37 square metres of floor space for a one bed flat with a shower room or 39 square metres where there is a bathroom.
  • The changes were introduced through an amendment to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order (2015).
  • This requirement will not apply to any permitted development scheme where prior approval was granted, confirmed as not required or obtained by default prior to April 2021 or any permitted development scheme which has submitted its application for prior approval prior to April 2021.

Conclusion

Over the past year the COVID-19 pandemic has truly emphasised the importance of having somewhere suitable, secure and comfortable to relax, socialise, work and/or exercise. As working from home is likely to be here to stay in some shape or form for the foreseeable future, the announcement will be welcome news to many first time buyers.

Although these new regulations are certainly a step in the right direction, there is perhaps further to go as people need more light and living space. The Government has been proved wrong that office to residential conversions will never be carried out in industrial sites and so access to high quality outdoor space may be the next requirement on the list.

Get in touch with a Planning Solicitor

If you would like advice on anything mentioned in this article, please contact our specialist Planning Solicitor Victoria Leam on 0161 503 2998 or email victorialeam@kuits.com.

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