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Ministers baulk at extending office-to-resi relaxation

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Proposals to extend a rule-relaxation allowing offices to be converted into homes without planning permission are absent from a new raft of reforms unveiled by ministers this week

Communities secretary Eric Pickles on Wednesday laid a new general development order before parliament, expanding the range of building use changes exempted from planning permission.

They include the conversion of casinos and arcades with a floorspace of less than 150m2 into housing, and the same for warehouses of up to 500m2.

But planning experts pointed out that the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development)(Amendment)(England) Order 2015 does not extend the controversial three-year office-to-resi conversion window, which is due to expire next year.

The government states that it would merely ‘further consider the case’ for extending the reforms.

The right allows existing office buildings to change use through permitted development rights, with local planning authorities given much more limited scope to refuse proposals.

However, office-to-resi has been a controversial policy in some areas with high property values that have not been allowed to opt out. Particular hotspots have included the London boroughs of Islington and Richmond, where concerns have been raised about the policy’s effect on office space.

Plans to further extend the right, and remove the existing exemptions enjoyed by the likes of the City of London Corporation and Westminster City Council drew fierce opposition.

Margaret Baddeley, planning director at consultancy Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners, said the omission of plans to extend the life of the office-to-resi phenomenon was the most notable aspect of the order and followed the Department for Communities and Local Government consulting on two options for extending the rights beyond 2016.

“It would appear that the government has taken into account in the new order the unintended consequences of this right that have been highlighted particularly by London councils,” she said.

Stephen Ashworth, partner at law firm Dentons, said the new “Class O” building use due to come into force on April 15 prevented any use of an office for residential purposes from beginning after May 30 next year.

He added that there may already be schemes with permitted development rights for conversion from offices to homes that would not be able to proceed because there was no-longer enough time to complete the work.

At the beginning of this month the Conservative Party said it would extend office-to-resi conversion rights until 2020 if it retained power after May’s general election.

As part of his statement to parliament this week, Pickles hinted at the possibility of further reform.

“The government will further consider the case for extending the office to residential reforms, which are helping provided more new homes on brownfield land,” he said.

Melanie Leech, chief executive of the British Property Federation, praised the addition of casinos and other use types to the list of building uses that can be converted into homes more easily.

“Making it easier for local authorities to repurpose buildings that are no longer used is an important part of creating thriving, vibrant communities,” she said.

“We are not under any illusion that turning casinos and storage centres into homes will solve the housing crisis, but these new permitted development rights will be a useful tool in increasing the flexibility of local authorities and helping them to breathe life back into under-used buildings.” 

Previous story (AJ 03.05.2015)

Tories plan to extend office-to-resi relaxation until 2020

Conservatives promise to extend rules allowing offices to be converted until 2020 as part of new planning measures

The office-to-resi planning rules, which were due to expire in 2016, would be extended as part of a raft of new planning measures announced by the Tories

The new planning policy announcement also included plans to allow people to build larger extensions and will ask local councils to help people find plots of land to build their own homes. A private members bill regarding more help for those looking to build their own homes is currently making its way through parliament.

Demand for office space is at its highest this century. However, supply of new space hit a new low last year, with only 12.9 million sq ft available. Several London boroughs have sought exemptions from permitted development, or attempted to block office-to-residential conversions, fearing such conversions would negatively impact local employment.

The City of London has vociferously opposed the plans, stating that they form a threat to the commercial heart of the City.

Speaking about the plans Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps MP said: ‘We are determined to get Britain building again, so that more people can find a good quality, affordable home. We want common sense on home extensions too, so families aren’t crushed by expensive red tape.

‘For home extensions and conservatories, as long as your neighbours are happy, a Conservative government will always give you the right to build, without old-fashioned regulations getting in the way.’

The temporary permitted development right allowing developers to convert offices into homes without having to apply to local planning authorities for full permission first, was introduced by the coalition government in May 2013.



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