The previous government introduced temporary permitted development rights for office to residential conversions in May 2013. The government made these rights permanent in October 2015. From this date, applicants were permitted to convert existing office accommodation to residential dwellings without seeking planning permission. Instead, applicants were required only to make a ‘prior approval’ application. This is a light-touch application process by which a local planning authority is permitted only to consider transport and highways impacts, contamination risks and flooding risks.
Under the prior approval process, the local authority has no discretion to consider or apply any other planning policies in determining the prior approval application. This means that, for example, authorities may not seek to enforce minimum space standards or seek affordable housing contributions.
Certain areas of London, including the Central Activities Zone, the Canary Wharf area and Tech City, have been exempted from the permitted development rights. This means that office accommodation in these areas still requires a full planning application to convert to residential use. The government introduced these exemptions in order to protect office accommodation considered to be of particular economic importance. Individual planning authorities may also seek to reimpose the requirement for planning permission in specific areas or premises through an “Article 4” direction.
The government’s position
In October 2015, the government announced it would make office-to-residential permitted development rights permanent, following public consultation in the summer of 2014. Existing exemptions have been extended for three years until May 2019, and boroughs can thereafter choose to make an Article 4 direction.