• Rita Sen Solicitors

Turning Offices into Homes

The Government has announced that it aims to introduce a new “permitted development right” that will allow property owners to change the use of buildings from offices to residential use without the need to obtain planning permission. Initially the change is proposed to last for a period of 3 years, but at the end of that period consideration will be given as to whether the right should be extended indefinitely.

The proposal is intended to satisfy some of the Country’s urgent need for housing by using stocks of redundant or underutilised office space. Questions will undoubtedly be asked as to whether it is right that developers should be able to gain quick profits from changing office space that might be of economic benefit to a community into more valuable residential property. Local Authorities are being given an opportunity for a general exemption from the operation of the rights, but they will only be exempted where they are able to show exceptional circumstances.

The changes may also mean that Local Authorities lose out on the chance to benefit from “planning gain”, in particular by imposing a condition for the provision of some affordable housing that might have been required if a full planning application has been necessary. Conversely, Community Infrastructure Levy may be chargeable on the change of use and developers will need to give careful consideration to the timing of any change. This is particularly so given the initial 3 year time limit on the availability of the rights.

Although full details of the scheme remain to be announced it does appear clear that the buildings in question will have had to have been in use as an office for at least 6 months prior to any change if the Community Infrastructure Levy is to be avoided.

The “permitted development” only relates to the change of use of the building and does not cover any changes to the construction of the building that that may require planning permission, nor does it reflect the need to obtain listed building consent in appropriate cases.

There is also a question over the position of buildings that are presently in multiple use, for example a mix of offices, restaurants and other community uses.

The Government have indicated that they propose that these changes should be effective from “Spring 2013” and, no doubt, the Parliamentary Draftsmen are already busy preparing the necessary Regulations. Once the draft legislation is published, hopefully, all will become clear!

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