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How the new permitted development rules can benefit developers


Posted in: Supported Living, Posted on Thursday, 16 December 2021, Posted By: Russ Crabtree

Since new permitted development rules came into force in 2013, offices (classed as B1a) could be converted into residential units without the need to seek planning permission. A prior approval application for a change of use from commercial to residential was needed instead. Since 2013 some further changes have come into force that you need to be aware of if you’re considering a commercial to residential development.  

Use classes were updated on 1st September 2020 and many commercial premises now come under Class E (including offices), and residential is still classed as C3 (dwellinghouses). Class E also covers shops, restaurants, gyms and nurseries. To see more details on the new use classes check the planning portal. Change of use from class E to C3 comes under permitted development so planning permission is often not required. Since there are many unused commercial buildings following on from the shift to work from home after Covid 19, many exciting development opportunities have opened up. Old offices are often a good size for conversion into small-medium sized blocks of flats. Care and housing providers are crying out for quality homes for supported living tenants and small blocks of self-contained units are very popular. 

What is the difference between prior approval and planning permission? 

Prior approval is not  judged on  the design of the proposed development. There are five criteria that need to be met relating to:  

  • Transport & highways (is there ample parking etc) 
  • Flood risk 
  • Contamination 
  • Amenity and neighbours 
  • Is there enough natural light to habitable rooms 

If your submission meets all the criteria relating to the above then planning have to say yes. And the timelines are shorter – a decision has to be made within 56 days. 

Another benefit for developers is there is no requirement for affordable housing provision under a prior approval application. With supported living property development this simplifies the requirements of the build and improves the open market valuation for alternative exit strategies. 

Are there any other considerations following the planning update in 2021? 

Yes, the property must have been vacant for at least three months before you submit your proposal. It must also have been used for one of the uses covered by class E for at least two years. There is also a maximum size for the conversion: 1,500 sqm. 

Bear in mind that you cannot make any changes to the outside of the building with prior approval so you need to consider if eg the current windows will work with your proposed development. However, once the change of use has been granted there is nothing to stop you from submitting a planning permission application to make changes and improvements.  

How does Article 4 affect permitted development? 

In Article 4 areas, the local planning authority have removed the permitted development rights in specific geographical areas. In these areas planning permission is still required for a development. 

Office to residential development in supported living property 

Northbank House is an old concrete office block in Devon. We purchased it with the intention of converting the first and second floors into self contained units for supported living tenants with learning disabilities. Supported living housing in North Devon is in short supply and residential property prices are sky high so this is a great example of how permitted development can help developers to meet demand and put existing buildings to good use. 

We split the planning process into two parts. The first was an application for prior approval for a change of use from office to residential, creating 16 new apartments. The second was a planning application to improve the development with infilled panels to accommodate a new window layout and apartment design, and new infill cladding.  

By working with a care provider from the start of the process we’ve been able to incorporate their needs into the design and make sure future tenants will be catered for. In return they will offer us a secure long lease and the opportunity to help create more homes for those in society who need additional support. Without permitted development rights this would not have been possible as the cost of residential buildings is prohibitively high in Devon.  

Supported Living Gateway is a members only property portal and training company that helps property investors connect with supported living providers. Read more about membership and training for property investors.

Photo by Ümit Yıldırım on Unsplash


Property Investor Care/Housing Provider

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