Commercial to Residential Permitted Development PD Rights for 2021.
A personal view.....
THE NEW COMMERCIAL TO RESIDENTIAL PD PERMITTED DEVELOPMENT RIGHTS 2021
The end of the high street or a blessing in disguise?
Ever since the advent of internet shopping, there have been those who have been predicting the end of high
street shopping in towns and city centres. This is nothing new, these tales have been around ever since the
introduction of edge of town and out of town shopping centres combined with the increase in car ownership and
Our High Streets have survived all these pressures but they are mostly located with affluent areas where people
actually want to live & can afford the premium to do so. In poor & deprived communities up & down the
UK, the High Streets have suffered much worse and seem to be in a never ending cycle of decline which can only
change if incomes & opportunities improve.
Watch this excellent overview video on the new Commercial to Residential PD Rights from
Governments and Local Authorities have tried to intervene with funding improvement projects for local uplift
(with little success) but if most of the town are on some form of supporting benefit and there is no legal
entrepreneurial spirit amongst the local population, only bookies & pound shops will ever survive in these god
The one thing that has been consistent during these times is the planning legislation that has maintained a
level of control and oversight with the necessary checks and balances to ensure that sufficient infrastructure and
resources were in place to support the creation of places and communities that benefit society as a whole.
Well, that's what the Planners say or would like us to believe but, by and large, I would suggest they have been
fairly successful in maintaining and protecting our much loved High Streets - especially for a lot of the smaller
and again, highly desirable historic town centres.
The sweeping experimental times of the sixties for complete knock down and rebuilding of lesser established
towns with boring concrete fake facade monoliths were not so successful and it is now many of these poorly rebuilt
towns and High Streets that are suffering the most from the previous Planners new-age thinking.
With the new increased scope of prior approval and certain permitted development rights which come into force on
1 August 2021, some of the checks and balances will be definitely be eroded if not removed completely.
On 31st march 2021, New Permitted development rights were introduced in England to allow change of use from
commercial, business and service uses (Class E) to residential use (Class C3) in certain circumstances, without
requiring planning permission. Again, this statement is not exactly true given the prior approval is in fact just
another light touch form of Planners assessment based upon many subjective elements that can still be exploited by
them for a negative developer outcome.
This is not a developers panacea by any means. Perhaps it will be after 18 months of many appeal results on the
technicalities but as all early adopters of so called new PD rights know, the Planners are masters at the art of
interpretation that would be against central governments intentions and that of the applicant.
The intention of Government is to give new life to buildings left vacant and as a result help to deliver more
homes and to revitalise England's cherished high streets and town centres. Regulations affecting these changes came
into force on 21 April 2021, with applications for prior approval being the remaining checks and balances in place,
allowed to be submitted from 1st August 2021.
But, as always, what the government giveth with one
hand, they taketh back with terms and conditions apply with the other hand.
For example, commercial buildings need to have been vacant for three months before they can be converted to
housing through the new PD rights, with certain limits on size also being applicable.
Most Building Design Professionals will be familiar with the usual domestic residential PD rights, although not
everyone will be completely familiar with the prior approval process, where there are only limited checks carried
out by the planning authority.
With this is mind, any project that is being considered under these new Commercial to Residential PD rights will
be subjected to some level of scrutiny by the planning authority under the new prior approval process and have to
satisfy the planning authority as to the impact of that change of use on the character or sustainability of the
area. Don’t these terms and requirements sound awfully like subjectivity and control that the Government is trying
to move away from?
What this means in reality is that the applicant needs to purchase and obtain a myriad of specialist reports
from our bearded academic establishment who have set up shop as so called 'experts' in their respective fields.
These are the exact same reports the Planners would be requiring for a formal full Planning application so where is
the benefit of speed, efficiency and less cost to the applicant? You could not make some of this stuff up.
These supporting Planning reports for PD / prior approval can include, but not limited to, the following:
Transport impact report of the development.
Contamination risk report in relation to the building.
Flooding risk report in relation to the building.
Impacts of noise from commercial premises report on the intended occupiers of the development.
An impact report on the local provision of the type of services lost including:
the provision of adequate natural light in all habitable rooms of the dwelling houses;
the impact on intended occupiers of the development of the introduction of residential use in an area the
authority considers to be important for general or heavy industry, waste management, storage and distribution, or a
mix of such uses where the development involves the loss of services provided by a registered nursery or health
centre maintained under section 2 or 3 of the National Health Service Act 2006.
In addition, in the case of conversion to residential, applicants will need to submit detailed floor plans
showing the total floor space in square metres of each dwelling house. This will be subject to space standards
It is suggested that as long as all of the correct information and specialist report documents are submitted to
the local planning department, the prior approval process should be a great deal simpler than going through a
planning application. Did I just see a pig flying over head?
Prior approval is designed to be much less onerous in its requirements as it is reserved for permitted
developments. From the application documents required stated above (and this is just the tip of the iceberg), I
fail to see how this can be the case.
The Planners are masters at the creation of dubious subjective ‘concerns’ and ‘failed to address’ issues
that will destroy and frustrate many early adopters of these new commercial to residential PD rights.
There are also some notable exclusions to PD rights, which will apply in conservation areas but not in national
parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty, the Broads, areas specified by the-Secretary of State for the
purposes of section 41(3) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and
world heritage sites.
The usual exclusions to PD rights would also continue to apply for sites of special-scientific interest, listed
buildings and land within their curtilage; sites that are or contain scheduled monuments, safety hazard areas,
military explosives storage areas and sites subject to an
The good bits for the Planners still retaining control and being obstructive include:
For the first time, notices will need to be served on any adjoining owner or occupier and, where the
proposed development relates to part of a building, on any owner or occupier of the other part or parts of the
There is no exemption from the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), although the in-use buildings exemption
will apply if at least part of the building has been occupied for a use which is lawful for at least six months
continuously in the previous three years.
The scale of development that can fall within a PD rights project has been capped at 1,500 sq.m -
Any works that 'materially changes' the external appearance of a building will still require planning
permission, although this will potentially be subjective and a point of debate during any discussions with
clients and developers and to what constitutes a 'material change'.
Can you see all the holes that the Planners will leverage to deny these PD rights if they intrinsically
disagree with what is being proposed either on a personal or professional level.
The bad bits for the planners that lessens their control and often dubious demands include:
There is no mitigation as to matters that are not the subject of the prior approval process, so PD
residential development will be free from affordable housing and other social infrastructure commitments (e.g.,
contributions to the cost of education facilities).
Residential development will occur in potentially unsustainable locations.
The new PD rights will allow commercial frontages in high streets to be converted in a way which may
adversely affect the traditional function of town centres (although this will be subject to the need for
separate planning permission for the external treatment of the building).
The new PD rights will greatly limit, the role of the local planning authority in determining what are
appropriate uses for a particular area.
There will still be room for uncertainty, potentially leading to unintended consequences particularly
around the vacancy requirement.
There are also a number of questions that still remain
Will this create new housing neighbourhoods and places where families want to live, or will it create
ghettos? Do people pay money to live in ghettos?
Where does the affordable housing come from? Perhaps the return of good old council housing will make a
return & solve it in the one hit.
Is there going to be a workable infrastructure in place? Are sufficient schools, doctor's surgeries
Whilst the extension of PD rights may seem to be the answer to the housing shortage, one thing that is for sure,
redevelopment and conversion of buildings in our towns and high streets will bring people back into high streets
and town centres, but will it create communities? I think it will. If you look at any successful and desirable High
Street location, they already have a high mix of residential housing either above or adjacent the shops &
offices. My own town of Marlow is a prime example as are Great Missenden, Beaconsfield and Burford.
The effects and ramifications of these changes are going to be around for a long time, and it would be advisable
to consider the spaces and their use holistically and within an area wide context.
I think there will be much resistance from the Planners on these new commercial or residential PD rights and, as
always, it will be a battle of whit’s between the developers Planning Agents and the Planners ivory towers - well,
when they actually used to go in to work that is.
I would not want to be an early adopter for using these new PD rights as I expect only about 1 in 10 will be
accepted within the first year. 9 out of 10 will likely be deliberately frustrated by bad or deficient reports,
subjective Planners opinions on ‘failed to satisfy’ concerns.
So, stand by for an even more bogged down appeal system going forward that has never really managed to be quick