The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (England) Order 2013
These permitted development rights were announced by Eric Pickles in January 2013 as one of the measures promoted by the government last year to increase the national housing supply. They came into effect in May 2013 and permit the change of use of a building from Class B1 (a) (office) to Class C3 (residential). Since the introduction of these rights in May 2013, there has been a significant increase in the number of prior approval applications for the conversion of office buildings into residential use being submitted to local planning authorities (LPAs). The benefit for developers is clear - as the ability of LPAs to seek substantial obligations by way of section 106 agreements, for affordable housing and education contributions has effectively been removed by these new permitted development rights.
However the approach of LPAs to these types of applications appears, particularly in London, to be hardening. LPAs, faced with the loss of valuable employment floor space and the loss of associated business rates, are considering a range of options to restrict the number of these applications coming forward. Some local authorities for example are now actively seeking unilateral undertakings from developers to mitigate the impacts of such development particularly in relation to highways and transport issues.
The recent High Court challenge by the London Boroughs of Islington, Camden, Lambeth and Richmond upon Thames into the procedure and criteria used by the government to determine which areas should be exempted from these permitted development rights, - was dismissed, in December last year. This now leaves the option of Article 4 Directions to withdraw the operation of these permitted development rights in certain areas, as the most likely tool to be used by LPAs to stop developers exercising these permitted development rights.
To date Islington, Richmond, Merton and Sutton have issued Article 4 Directions whilst others including Camden and Bromley are considering using these powers. Once in force, these Directions will require a developer to submit an application for planning permission in the usual way for the conversion of any office to residential development. No compensation is payable to developers where 12 months notice of the Article 4 Direction is given.
What was advocated by Nick Boles, Planning Minister, as “an important step in improving the planning system “ is fast becoming the next battle ground in planning, particularly as the first set of refusals for prior approval applications are now emerging from LPAs. It will be up to the Planning Inspectors in determining these appeals and the High Court in hearing any legal challenges to appeal decisions and Article 4 Directions, to determine how many of these schemes are granted and implemented before the deadline of 30 May 2016, when the 3 year time limit for these powers expires.