The Government recently announced fairly radical changes to the planning system which on the face of it should make it easier and quicker to build new homes. The idea is to give greater freedom to develop both buildings and land in our town centres, to permit change of use without planning permission and create new homes from the regeneration of vacant and redundant buildings.
Under the new rules, existing commercial properties, including newly vacant shops, will be able to be converted into residential housing more easily. The changes include:
More types of commercial premises having flexibility to be repurposed through reform of the Use Classes Order. A building used for retail, for instance, would be able to be permanently used as a cafe or office without requiring a planning application and local authority approval. Some building types such as pubs, libraries, village shops and other essential types in the community will not be covered by the changes.
A wider range of commercial buildings will be permitted to change to residential use without the need for a planning application.
Developers will be able to demolish existing vacant residential and commercial buildings and build new homes in their place without normal planning consent. There are various restrictions on this and the demolition only relates to a single purpose-built block of flats or a single detached building in use class B1. The developer must however apply to the local authority for prior approval. There is an extensive list of factors considered in the approval including the diagnosis, external appearance as well as impact on neighbouring amenity etc.
Property owners will be able to build additional space above their properties via a fast track approval process, subject to neighbour consultation. The developer will need to apply to the local authority for prior approval and to comply with a number of conditions and restrictions.
These changes, which are planned to come into effect by September 2020 through changes to the law, aim to help reduce the pressure to build on green field land by making brownfield development easier. Developers will still need to adhere to high standards and regulations, but hopefully without unnecessary red tape. Whilst on the face of it, the new legislation might appear to give carte blanche to developers, in reality the changes are less far reaching than the headlines suggest. As ever, no doubt ‘the devil will be in the detail’.
The construction industry will have to wait for now, to see how the new proposals will be implemented by the planning authorities and how the system will work in practice, but this certainly on the face of it, opens up more avenues to development and possibilities for property owners.