News story

Planning measures will make best use of underused buildings for providing new homes

New permitted development rights will allow office space to be converted into homes without the need for planning permission.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Architectural plans of a house.

New planning measures will ensure empty and underused offices can be swiftly converted into much-needed housing to make the most use out of previously developed land, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles announced today (24 January 2013).

The changes will make the best use of developed sites by allowing existing buildings to be quickly brought back into productive use. New permitted development rights will allow office space to be converted into new homes without the need for planning permission from the local authority.

This new change of use right will provide badly needed homes for local people and will make a valuable contribution to easing the national housing shortage. It will help create jobs in the construction industry and help regenerate our town centres by increasing footfall in high streets.

The permitted development right will be in place for 3 years, and because local circumstances vary, local authorities will have an opportunity to seek an exemption if they can demonstrate there would be substantial adverse economic consequences.

Further reforms will also help boost rural communities and create jobs by allowing agricultural buildings to be converted for other business uses without the need for planning permission.

Buildings no longer suitable or needed for agricultural use could be transferred into new growth-boosting ventures that benefit rural areas, such as shops, restaurants, small hotels and leisure facilities and offices, under new permitted development rights.

Town centre buildings will also be able to easily convert to help new shops, business start-ups and community projects keen to set up in high streets.

The new rules will allow a range of buildings to temporarily convert for up to 2 years and will speed up the process of bringing vacate high street buildings back into use.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said:

“We want to promote the use of brownfield land to assist regeneration, and get empty and under-used buildings back into productive use.

“Using previously developed land and buildings will help us promote economic growth, provide more homes and still ensure that we safeguard environmentally protected land.

“We are absolutely determined to support people striving to bring life back to their communities and high streets.”

Planning Minister Nick Boles said:

“These new changes ensure the very best use is made of our existing buildings to provide new homes and makes sure we get the most use we can out of our previously developed land.

“These changes are an important step in improving the planning system and making sure it is in the best possible shape to swiftly adapt to changes and opportunities that can provide a big boost to the economy.

“We are determined to make sure perfectly good underused properties are converted for homes and uses that will benefit our communities.”

The new measures for agricultural buildings will help rural businesses to diversify, say the Country Land and Business Association. Association President Harry Cotterell said:

“We are very pleased with this announcement. It is something for which we have campaigned for years. It offers farmers and land managers the chance to find alternative sources of income by using their redundant agricultural buildings in new ways. This will underpin their farming businesses and boost the rural economy by helping to create new jobs and businesses at a time when they are greatly needed.”

Further information

A consultation on relaxing change of use rules for commercial properties to residential was held in April 2011.

The new permitted development rights allow change of use from B1(a) office to C3 residential.

Local authorities can seek an exemption to the permitted development rights to convert offices into homes if there are justified economic grounds. The secretary of state will only grant an exemption in exceptional circumstances.

Agricultural buildings will be able to convert up to a specific size still being determined. There will be a prior approval process for conversions beyond that size to guard against unacceptable impacts, such as flooding, transport and noise.

The new permitted development rights for agricultural buildings do not allow conversion to residential dwellings.

The town centre uses that can convert temporarily for 2 years to other uses include shops (A1), financial and professional services (A2), restaurants and cafes (A3) and offices (B1).

We have also published a written minsterial statement and a guidance letter for chief planning officers (PDF 54KB).

Published 24 January 2013