Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Living in the office? Make it official!

Since 2013, it has been possible to convert offices to residential use without having to apply for ‘traditional’ planning permission. Instead permission has been obtainable via a much simpler ‘prior approval’ process, saving an applicant time and cost and reducing the risk of refusal.
This temporary right was due to lapse in May 2016 but the Government announced last month that it is to continue longer term across the country (although there are some areas such as London and Manchester where the rights will not apply).

The Government has committed to the delivery of one million extra homes by 2020 and the announcement is a means of supporting this commitment while at the same time helping to preserve agricultural and greenbelt land by using up redundant office space instead. Planning minister Brandon Lewis said these “measures will mean we can tap into the potential of underused buildings to offer new homes for first-time buyers and families long into the future, breathing new life into neighbourhoods and at the same time protecting our precious green belt". The Government considers that it will provide opportunities for first-time buyers by providing more affordable homes.
Further details of the scope of the on-going prior approval mechanism will be published in due course but the key  points included in the Government announcement are:

  1. Those who already have approval under the existing temporary rules will now have until May 2019 to complete the change of use and those who secure prior approval will have 3 years to complete the change of use. 
  2. The new extended rights will allow the demolition of office buildings and their replacement by new build residential, subject to approval of final plans and to other conditions yet to be announced.
The extended relaxation of planning restrictions is good news for many commercial property owners and developers. However, the likely reduction in office stock may bring its own problems for businesses and society.