Class E to Class C3 – fast tracking the transformation of the high street?
11 December 2020
This is a very controversial proposal. The experience to date of office to residential conversions is that it can result in compromised development and poorer quality housing.
Claire Temple Director Harrogate
On 3rd December, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government published yet another a consultation paper (“Supporting housing delivery and public service infrastructure”), further demonstrating their commitment to “reshaping” and “simplifying” the planning system.
The latest proposed reforms outline additional amendments to permitted development rights, all set with the purpose to provide greater “certainty and flexibility”, which could result in a real change to the nature of the high street as we know it.
The story so far…
September 2020 welcomed the introduction of Class E, a new category comprising offices, restaurants, shops, professional services and light industrial uses. As we already know, there is no need for planning permission or even prior approval to move within this new use class.
The Government has now gone one step further, and is proposing that buildings falling within Class E can be converted to residential use without full planning permission.
So what is required to make the change?
The ability of councils to manage development under the prior approval system will be restricted to flooding, access, noise, contamination, fire safety and natural light. It will need to be demonstrated that the location is ‘suitable’, so consideration will need to be given to the impact on intended occupiers. For example, in an area the local authority considers important, or waste management. Even conservation areas do not get a respite from the proposals.
Detailed floor plans will be required showing dimensions and the proposed use of each room, including the position of windows (to ensure space standards are met), information necessary for the consideration of the matters of prior approval, and an appropriate fee. Talking of which, this will be set at £96 per dwelling compared to £462 for a new build.
There is no size limit, so we could expect to see large office blocks and department stores (Debenhams?) converted. Ground floors are not excused either – a potential blow to keeping high streets active.
When will this happen?
The consultation period runs until 28th January 2021 and we expect to see a lot of interest. If the proposed changes are implemented then these will come into play on 1st August 2021.
What are the issues?
Industry commentators have already raised a number of concerns, such as the lack of Section 106 and affordable housing, increased article 4 directions, design challenges, and the lack of the ability of councils to manage development – to name just a few. This is a very controversial proposal. The experience to date of office to residential conversions is that it can result in compromised development and poorer quality housing. There are also bad examples of retail to residential conversions. Whilst it is clear that some development management policies are overly restrictive, removing them altogether is not the right way to address the problems.
Like it or loath it, (and unlike the introduction of Class E) you do have a chance to have your say. A little like the White Paper published in August, it is likely that the consultation will attract a lot of interest and the final version may not be quite like the first draft.