With the Government keen to minimise the impact of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic on both the high street and the development sector as a whole, August will see a number of changes to the planning system come into effect.
The 1st August will mark a significant alteration to Permitted Development (PD) rights. Under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) (No. 3) Order 2020, vacant buildings will benefit from PD rights which allow them to be demolished and replaced with new residential units without the need to obtain full planning permission. In order for this PD right to apply, the building must have been constructed prior to 1st January 1990 and must have been “entirely vacant for at least six months prior to the date of the application for prior approval”. It is, however, unclear at this moment in time as to whether this vacancy period can be demonstrated by information provided by the property owner, via a thorough and proportionate marketing process, or through any other alternative appropriate means. This PD right also carries lengthy requirements relating to the size and scale of the proposed development and grants the Local Planning Authority (LPA) numerous opportunities to refuse prior approval based on rather subjective assessments of the design, amenity impact and “adequacy” of natural light, to name but a few examples.
Further changes to PD rights are also to come into effect, under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2020, allowing homeowers to extend their properties upwards to provide additional living space. More specifically, this PD right allows for the construction of up to two additional storeys on top of a detached house of at least two storeys, or one additional storey on a detached house of one storey above ground level. However, like the PD right discussed above, LPAs are once again provided considerable grounds by which to consider, and potentially refuse, the prior approval application.
Leading on from the changes outlined above, three new use classes will be added to the Use Class Order on 31st August. Perhaps most notably, the new Class E (commercial, business and service) use class will subsume the existing Class A1 (Shops), Class A2 (Financial and professional services), Class A3 (Restaurants and cafes), and Class B1 (Business) use classes. Accordingly, this much broader use class will allow a flexible approach to town centre use classes and allow for high street premises falling under Class E to be utilised for any of the previously mentioned uses without the need to obtain formal planning approval from the LPA to do so. This will undoubtedly be resoundingly welcomed by landlords and developers who, up until this point, have been required by many LPAs to ensure high street premises retain a primary retail frontage. The remaining two new use classes are to be Class F1 (learning and non-residential institutions) and Class F2 (relating to ‘local community’ uses). Class F1 relates to non-residential use which involves “provision of educations, for the display of works of art (otherwise than for sale or hire), as a museum, as a public library of public reading room, as a public hall or exhibition hall, for, or in connection with, public worship or religious instruction, as a law court”, whilst Class F2 is described as “a shop mostly selling essential goods, including food, to visiting members of the public in circumstances where the shop’s premises cover an area not more than 280 metres square, and there is no other such facility within 1,000 metre radius of the shop’s location”. These two latter use classes seek to preserve ‘essential’ non-residential and community facilities and are therefore expected to come with increased levels of protection against their loss through change of use applications. Other town centre uses, such as pubs and bars (existing Use Class A4) and takeaways (existing Use Class A5) will now fall under Sui Generis usage, though it is not currently clear where the line will be drawn for mixed restaurants and cafes (now under Class E) which provide an element of takeaway provision (now Sui Generis) with the likelihood being that ‘fact and degree’ will be applied to each individual case. Whether these reforms have made it easier for landlords and developers to ensure the vitality of their premises is therefore expected to be the topic of much debate within the coming months.
Whilst it is hoped that the Government’s positive attitude towards development, as is encapsulated by its newly adopted Build, Build, Build agenda, will filter into the manner in which new development proposals are assessed by the relevant LPA, it is important to stress that the recent raft of changes to the planning system appear to be far from a ‘free pass’ for developers. Rather, these alterations seem to offer significant scope for the LPA to refuse development through the prior approval process instead of through the previously required route via a formal planning application. Should you be looking to explore the opportunities presented by the recent changes to the planning system, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Globe team who will happy to provide you with initial advice and recommendations.
At Globe we pride ourselves on our ability to find the most direct and cost-effective route through the planning system and if you are considering your options for development we would be delighted to offer our expertise regarding the above and the even more drastic reforms set to make their way through Parliament in the coming months!