Do you need planning permission to change office to residential?

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These days, the demand for office is experiencing a decline due to the COVID-19 crisis that’s compelling a huge number of people to work from home. As a result, commercial property owners are somewhat forced to find new uses for their properties. And when it comes to converting a property from one use to another, office to residential is still considered as one of the most attractive options.

When you convert an office to a residential property, you’ll be changing its use class. Though generally, planning permission is required to change use class, in this case, you may or may not need to obtain it. Let’s check the details.

Planning permission and conversion of office to residential property

Before you start converting an office into a residential property, keeping the following things in mind would help you to avoid future financial and/or legal problems.

Here in the U.K., permitted development rights have been introduced by the GPDO amendment, which came into force in 2016, to change the use of offices (B1) to residential properties (C3). Though this order eliminated the mandatory requirement of obtaining planning permission to change the use of class B1 to C3, you may still need to consult with your local authority.

Prior approval

It’s important to understand that the use of permitted development rights (PDR) is subject to prior approval from the local authority of the area where you are planning to perform the conversion work. Typically, the local authority will review the following aspects before giving consent.

  • Contamination risks
  • Flood risks
  • Transport and highways
  • Noise

Restrictions on permitted development rights

In the U.K., permitted development rights aren’t applicable to the entire country. There are certain areas and buildings where and which cannot be converted without obtaining planning permission. These include:

  • Conservation areas
  • National parks (and specified lands outside their boundaries)
  • A listed building
  • A safety hazard zone
  • An ancient monument
  • Areas of outstanding natural beauty
  • A military explosives area

Article 4 directions

In the above-mentioned cases, the local authorities may remove permitted development rights and your prior approval application using Article 4 directions. Simply put, an Article 4 direction makes it mandatory to obtain planning permission to convert an office into a residential property. That’s why we strongly suggest you to check with the local council to know whether or not Article 4 directions apply to your site before starting the project.

Conversion of a listed building

If the property you are planning to convert belongs to listed buildings, which means it has some historic or architectural interest or importance, not only will you need to obtain planning permission but listed building consent may be required as well. You may also need to use specific building materials or follow a specific standard so that the building’s history remains preserved.

Introduction of class E

From September 1st, 2020, the new use class E has been introduced in the U.K. while abolishing the B1 use class. It means now, offices fall under the new class E that lets you change any of the uses freely within this class. However, during the transition period, which will continue until July 31st, 2021, the older use classes will be followed by the GPDO. It means the existing permitted development rights continue to be in effect until then.

Final words

While converting an office building into a residential property can bring a good opportunity for investors to make a significant profit, the process involves various complexities as well. To simplify the process and avoid future complications, it’d always be a prudent decision to thoroughly consider the available use class changes and associated legalities. It’s also strongly advised to seek professional guidance before starting the conversion project, regardless of its volume.

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