At the end of May last year, the revised version of the Town and Country Planning Order was imposed, with many changes taking place in the commercial sector. This legislation looks to create many new opportunities for developers, as well as benefiting local areas.
While the commercial market has recently begun to recover following a decline post credit-crunch, many high street retail and commercial premises remain empty. Residential housing options however are in short supply, prompting a rethink on how best these empty buildings might best serve their local communities. With vacancy rates within the office sector having reached 21% in some regions, there was a need for the government to act quickly.
The Town and Country Planning Order 2013 now includes more classes of property that can be altered to become residential dwellings. Shops (Class A1) and financial and professional services (Class A2) are now within the property types that can be made into residential (C3) (Full list of classes listed below). The planning order is an amended version of the Town and Country Planning Order of 1995, and now allows larger extensions to be made to homes, offices and shops, without having to submit a planning application. In addition, buyers will now be able to make rear extensions of up to 6 metres on their terraced properties, and semi-detached properties up to 8 metres, although height restrictions of up to 4 meters will be restricted.
As a result of these recent changes, it is now much easier for office buildings to be converted into homes, providing new accommodation in existing buildings, and this has caught the eye of many a keen developer. Of course, there are restrictions. In order for planning permission to move forward, approval is required in relation to any environmental matters i.e. rights of light of the neighbouring buildings and density of the proposed schemes. This has already caused some upheaval, with 17 local authorities having already opted out after seeing an increase in commercial buildings being sold, in some cases above the asking price, most recently in area such as Merton and Bromley. In addition, the change is only allowable if the building was used for a purpose within the use of certain classes of A1 and A2 on 20 March 2013 or if the building was not in use on this date or since.
Equally the clause cannot take effect if the collective floor space exceeds 150 square metres or if the development is within certain restricted areas such as national parks and heritage sites or is, for example, listed. Also, prior approval from the planning authority may be required if issues of traffic management or flooding may arise.
There is more good news on the horizon with the announcement that the government will gather to discuss further relaxation of planning rules, allowing empty shops and agricultural buildings to be turned into residential housing without consultation.
Presently, the legislation expires in 2016, but even now the whole process is a lot easier and will make way for the regeneration of many high streets, it will also encourage many start up business within the authorities that are not exempt.