7 December 2020

Government Consults on Permitted Development Rights: Class E to Class C3

Following the numerous legislative changes to the planning system this year, and the widely talked about White Paper 'Planning for the Future', the Government has launched a consultation on various revisions to the permitted development rights regime, with a particular emphasis on delivering new housing and supporting public service infrastructure through the planning system.

1. New Permitted Development Right: Change of Use from Class E (Commercial, Business and Service) to Class C3 (Residential)

On 1 September 2020 the new Use Class E, Commercial, Business and Service, was introduced which broadly encompasses a lot of the uses previously included within Classes A, B and D, many of which will often be found on a high street. For full details on these changes please see Planning Senior Associate, Laura Parrish's article.

This consultation proposes introducing a new permitted development right for the change from any use, or mix of uses, within Class E to residential use within Class C3. Given the number of different uses which fall within Class E, this proposed right is very broad and could have far reaching impacts for the make-up and diversity of the built environment of local areas. It is proposed that there be no size limit on the buildings which can benefit from the right and would allow a building, or part of a building, to change use. The right would not apply in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, but it would apply in conservation areas. However, in recognition of the conservation value that retail frontage can bring to conservation areas the right would allow for prior approval of the impact of the loss of the ground floor use to residential.

The consultation does recognise that some retail and office buildings, which would now fall within Class E and therefore be able to benefit from this right, are very large and could therefore accommodate a large number of new residential homes. It is intended that the impacts will be managed through the prior approval process, which the consultation indicates will also include a number of other matters including transport impacts, fire safety and adequate natural light in all habitable rooms.

2. Public Service Infrastructure

The Government are also consulting on a proposal to streamline and speed up the planning process for public service infrastructure including hospitals, schools, further education colleges and prisons.

The consultation proposes amending the existing Class M permitted development right (Part 7, Schedule 3, GPDO) to allow for schools, colleges, universities and hospitals to expand their facilities by up to 25% of the footprint of the current buildings on the site at the time the legislation is brought into force, or up to 250 square meters, whichever is greater. Excluding the plant on the roof, the buildings may be no higher than 6 meters, except where it is within 10 meters of the boundary or curtilage in which case the height limit will be 5 metres.

The flexibility in relation to prisons, will not apply to other residential facilities such as immigration centres, but would permit the same size increase as detailed above with a maximum height of 6 metres.

The intention is that this permitted development right will ensure that expansion of existing sites will be streamlined. However, many of the public service buildings being funded by the Government will require more substantial development beyond the scope of this right.

The proposal is therefore to create a new faster process for applications for planning permission with a view to encouraging greater prioritisation of decision making for these public services. This new process would include, but not be limited to, shorter timescales for determination of applications for these sites and shortening the statutory publicity and consultation periods for these applications.

This is targeted only at substantive public service developments which extended beyond the proposed changes to the permitted development rights – this would be largely based on the size of the floorspace to be provided and will include the introduction of a new definition of 'major development' for this purpose.

3. Consolidation and Simplification of Existing Permitted Development Rights

In light of the changes to the Use Classes Order introduced in September 2020, it has become necessary to review references to use classes throughout the General Permitted Development Order, updating rights and articles as appropriate. The intention is to 'simplify and rationalise those existing rights' and bring forward the necessary amendments before 31 July 2020 (when the transitional provisions introduced by the new use classes legislation will expire.) This will include revoking rights which have now become unnecessary as a result of the introduction of Use Class E.

An example provided is that there may be rights where the scope is broadened - to allow for the change of use to Class E, rather than an individual use within it. Or a right may be broadened - providing for the change of use from a use falling within Class E.

The proposed alignment of the UCO and Permitted Development Rights is necessary and it remains to be seen whether these changes would involve any other significant widening of the existing rights.

The proposed addition of the Class E to Class C3 permitted development right has potentially very broad impacts. When taken into consideration with the new scheme of PD Rights introduced this summer and the proposals in the White Paper and if brought into legislation in the form, will reduce further the role of local authority's in the planning control process.

Whilst the proposed Class E to Class C3 right may lead to additional housing, local planning authorities are not currently able to charge CIL or secure s106 agreements when granting prior approval. There is a risk that significant conversions may not mitigate the impact of the development, thus putting further strain on local authority services.

Supporting Housing Delivery and Public Service Infrastructure will close on 28 January 2021 and contains proposals for three main areas of change, summarised below. The consultation document can be found here.

Sophie Smith is an Associate in the Planning team.

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