A game of ping pong before offices are turned into homes!

The third reading of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill in the House of Lords on the 26 March was the last reading before the ‘to-ing and fro-ing’ of amendments proposed between the Commons and the House of Lords takes place, this is  known as ping-pong. Royal Assent follows and the changes become law. The Government wrote to the Chief Planning Officers in January of this year to tell them that changes to permitted development rights to allow offices to be converted into homes without planning permission would be in force by this Spring. There are a number of ‘hot potato’ issues under debate in the Bill which could delay the change in the law, such as proposed rights for householders to build extensions without planning permission. The thrust behind these changes is, in part, as a result of Eric Pickles being persuaded by the outcome of the report on our high streets from Mary Portas of “Queen of Shops” fame, that the planning rules for changes of use on the high street should be eased to promote growth.

A permitted development right is the right to change from one planning class to another without making a planning application. It will apply only to offices and if conversion works require external alterations, planning permission will still be required as would building regulation consent. This easing of the planning laws is scheduled to end in 3 years’ time although there is provision for an extension depending no doubt on the success or otherwise of the policy. However, local authorities can apply for an exemption form the changes if it is thought that the loss of the unused office space would have a detrimental economic effect on the area – several high profile London Boroughs have applied for exemptions already. If the local authority does not apply for an exemption it could use other powers to restrict the permitted development rights by making   an  article 4 direction which removes the rights from specific locations. However, this is an opportunity for landlords of empty office buildings to cash in on the changes and with rates payable on empty offices it is an attractive option where conversion costs are not disproportionate. In Plymouth there are many offices which were themselves converted from Victorian houses which 100 years later could be returned to use as homes going full circle.

For advice on property development, please contact Clare Magill on 01752 292354.

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