The coalition government believes that a swift and responsive planning system is vital for delivering sustainable development. We want to promote the use of brownfield land to assist regeneration, and get empty and underused buildings back into productive use. Using such previously developed land and buildings will help us promote economic growth and still ensure that we safeguard environmentally protected land.
Mary Portas’s review called for the government to ease the rules surrounding change of use. We agree. We are therefore increasing the scope of permitted development rights in order to facilitate growth.
Commercial to residential
In April 2011, we ran a consultation Relaxation of planning rules for change of use from commercial to residential which sought views on introducing permitted development rights for change of use from commercial to residential uses. Following that consultation we included a policy statement within the National Planning Policy Framework to promote change of use.
Complementing this policy change, in the written ministerial statement of 6 September 2012, official report, column 34WS, I announced the introduction of permitted development rights to enable change of use from commercial to residential purposes. These new permitted development rights build on the policy set out in the National Planning Policy Framework and will encourage developers to bring underused offices back into effective use as houses for local residents.
The new permitted development rights allow change of use from B1(a) offices to C3 residential. They will provide badly needed homes for local people and will make a valuable contribution to easing our national housing shortage. By bringing underused offices back into effective use they will also help create jobs in the construction and services industries, and help regenerate our town centres and former commercial areas. These new homes will bring a greater resident population to our high streets, increasing footfall and supporting local shops.
In line with best practice on public policy, there will be a sunset clause, limiting the changes to 3 years and a review of the benefits from the policy at that point. This will provide Parliament with the opportunity to extend the policy indefinitely should it wish.
We recognise that, as with all permitted development rights, there may be unique local circumstances which should be taken into account. The Chief Planner is today writing to local planning authorities giving them the opportunity to seek a local exemption where this can be justified on economic grounds.
We will only grant an exemption in exceptional circumstances, where local authorities demonstrate clearly that the introduction of these new permitted development rights in a particular local area will lead to (a) the loss of a nationally significant area of economic activity or (b) substantial adverse economic consequences at the local authority level which are not offset by the positive benefits the new rights would bring.
Once local planning authority requests for exemption have been considered, the regulations for the new permitted development rights will be bought forward.
There will be a tightly drawn prior approval process which will cover significant transport and highway impacts, and development in areas of high flood risk, land contamination and safety hazard zones.
Getting redundant agricultural buildings back into use
As part of the 2011 Growth Review we undertook to review how change of use is handled in the planning system. We ran a consultation New opportunities for sustainable development and growth through the reuse of existing buildings in July 2012.
Following that consultation, I can confirm that in order to help promote rural prosperity and job creation, agricultural buildings will be able to convert to a range of other uses, but excluding residential dwellings. There will be a size restriction and, for conversions above a set size, a prior approval process will be put in place to guard against unacceptable impacts, such as transport and noise.
Flexibility for business uses
To enhance flexibility in the planning system, which can be vital when a quick response is necessary to support business growth, we will increase the thresholds for permitted development rights for change of use between business/office (B1) and warehouse (B8) classes and from general industry (B2) to B1 and B8 from 235 to 500 square metres.
Getting empty town centre buildings back into use
To create opportunities for new and start-up businesses and help retain the viability and vitality of our town centres, we will allow a range of buildings to convert temporarily to a set of alternative uses including shops (A1), financial and professional services (A2), restaurants and cafes (A3) and offices (B1) for up to 2 years.
We will continue to keep the operation of the use classes system under review to ensure it is as flexible as possible and promotes sustainable development. We are working to amend regulations as soon as possible and will publish a detailed summary of responses to the consultation shortly. A copy of the associated Chief Planner’s letter (PDF 54KB) has been placed in the Library of the House.