Permitted development (PD) refers to acts of development which include either changes of use of building or land, or physical building works (“operational development”), that do not require an express application for planning permission, because they benefit from an automatic grant of permission as set out in legislation.
This is primarily contained within The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015, hereafter “the GPDO”. The simplest permitted development rights apply to most residential dwellings, and enable home owners to carry out a range of extensions and other works without planning permission being required. With the publication of the 2010 and 2015 GPDO there was a notable shift in focus towards new rights that would help to boost the supply of housing, a key government objective. The new 2020 PD rights maintain this focus, taking it further with a host of new potential changes of use, ways to add additional storeys and demolish and rebuild certain structures. The traditional advantage of utilising PD rights over making a planning application is to avoid the development from being assessed against adopted planning policy, where it might otherwise be considered unacceptable on its planning merits and refused. A common example of this includes the Class O “office to residential” PD rights, which can be used to circumvent local planning policies that sought to protect office space. These rights are not always absolute however, and some matters remain under the consideration of the Local Planning Authority (LPA). How the prior approval process works is particularly important in understanding the range of new PD rights. Traditionally the scope of matters that the LPA could refuse prior approval on was purposely narrowed to ensure that generally, the PD rights could go ahead without unnecessary delays or subjective considerations, for example on matters such as design or impact on neighbours. The new PD rights however differ significantly in this respect, as explained below.
Class A, Part 20, Schedule 2 of the GDPO: Construction of New Dwelling houses
This is the first of the new rights, introduced under The Town and Country Planning (Permitted development and Miscellaneous Amendments) (England) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020, which inserts new provisions into the 2015 GPDO. This right is completely new, and in simple terms allows for the erection of additional storeys on existing blocks of flats to form new units. As well as the operational development necessary for adding additional storeys, the right also allows for associated works such as new plant, fire escapes and refuse stores to serve the development.
Class ZA, Part 20, Schedule 2 of the GDPO: – Demolition of buildings and construction of new dwelling houses in their place
This second new right is introduced under The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) (No. 3) Order 2020 and comes into force on the 31st August 2020. In simple terms it allows for the demolition of certain buildings and their replacement with new purpose-built flats.
Changes to the use class order
The final change brought out in recent new legislation is introduced under The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020. This change does not result in a new type of permitted development, but instead affects the classification of certain buildings and uses. In the UK planning system, all uses of land and buildings fall into a defined “use class”. For example, private residential dwellings are designated as C3 “residential”, light industrial operations are classed as B1, and non-residential institutions such as places of worship etc. come under class D1. The advantage of grouping together uses of land into defined classes is that different uses that fall within the same class can be changed on a site without planning permission being required. This is because it is not considered to be an act of development or a change of use of that land, so switching between two different types of business, such as a retail shop to a hairdresser, does not need permission because both fall into use class A1.
In response to what the Government sees as a changing role for the High Street, it has sought to increase the flexibility within the use class order so that new businesses can be introduced with greater ease. These new rights take effect from September 1st 2020 and the main changes are summarised as follows:
1. A new class has been formed, use Class E (Commercial, business and service) which now includes retail, restaurant, office, financial/professional services, indoor sports, medical and nursery uses along with “any other services which it is appropriate to provide in a commercial, business or service locality”. Whereas previously retail was use class A1, offices were B1a, and café / restaurants fell under class A3, all these uses now fall under the combined Class E. This means vacant retail units can now become cafes, restaurants or offices without any grant of planning permission being required. This new use class also includes fitness gyms and other forms of indoor recreation, and nurseries or day care centres.
2. The second new use Class is F.1, which now covers all learning and non-residential institutions such as schools, museums, art galleries, libraries, public halls, religious institutions or law courts. Previously these fell under use Class D1 but have now been split away from other former D1 uses like health care centres and nurseries (which fall into Class E as above)
3. The final new use Class is F.2, categorised as local community uses and includes use as a shop of no more than 280 sqm mostly selling essential goods (i.e. small convenience or corner shops), including food and at least 1km from another similar shop, and use as a community or village hall, areas for outdoor sport, swimming pools or skating rinks.
The opportunities presented by the changes to the use class order are naturally more commercial focused, and do not introduce any new avenues for residential development, but are likely to result in significant changes to the nature of business use within high streets. Generally, LPAs seek to strictly control and retain the majority of shop fronts within high streets and town centres as being A1 retail, as traditional policy planning was to assume that without high proportions of A1 retail use, the vitality of the high streets as employment bases would suffer and footfall and purchasing would reduce. However, as shoppers move away from purchasing within the high street as online ordering becomes the preferred method of choice, these changes to the use class order allow for the focus of the high street to adapt, with increased leisure uses like restaurants and gyms becoming prevalent instead without any obstruction from the planning system.