Permitted development rights are a useful tool for many property developers. They essentially allow certain types of developments to bypass the planning application process, speeding up the time to completion.

Planning and dev

Source: Shutterstock/MIND AND I

There are common household permitted development rights (small extensions, new fences etc), but much more controversial are the conversion permitted development rights – the right to change from one use class to another without a full planning application.

The most recent (and perhaps most controversial) of these was the announcement that, from the 1st August, you can now convert use class E properties into residential.

Use class E to resi – the statistics

The idea is that converting unused (and unneeded) high street properties into residential could help solve the housing crisis while also saving the high street.

(I wrote more about that for Property Week here).

And developers seem keen to get in on the action.

In fact, within a month of the change being announced, searches for use class E properties skyrocketed on LandInsight.

  • Offices – up 80%
  • Restaurants and Cafes – up 575%
  • Financial and Professional Services buildings – up 696.6%

There’s been a return to normal since then, but searches are still up on the pre-announcement levels.

So the new permitted development right is official?

Yes and no.

The changes came into effect on 1st August, but that’s not the end of the story as the plans are proving (perhaps unsurprisingly) controversial.

When they were first announce the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the Chartered Institute of Builders (CIOB) and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) all requested that the prime minister ‘urgently reconsider the measures’.

The pushback has been strong enough that Robert Jenrick has had to tighten up rules around Article 4 exemptions to ensure a ‘higher threshold’ – stopping local authorities just putting a blanket ban on the idea.

The pushback against planning reforms (including use class E to resi)

All of that opposition pales in comparison to the government’s wider planning reforms, which are proving equally controversial across the board.

Even prominent Conservatives – like former Prime Minister Theresa May – have come out against the plans, and many commentators have said planning reform was a big part of the electoral defeat in the Chesham and Amersham by-election where the Conservative candidate lost out to the Lib Dem opposition.

In fact, the frustration is so strong that the campaign group Rights:Community:Action have been granted an appeal to argue against not just the use-class-E-to-resi change, but all the other recent changes including the right to rise, the right to demolish and even the creation of use class E itself.

What will the outcome be? Only time will tell.

Making the most from permitted development rights

It’s impossible to tell what form exactly these changes will end up taking. But what can be seen is the appetite from the government to ease restrictions and regulations in order to build more housing.

Is it the best choice? And will it even work? No one can say for sure.

But the intention will mean a lot of opportunities could open up for developers.

If you’re keen to see what you can already do under permitted development rights, you can download our free Permitted Development Guide for Property Developers

By Grace Manning-Marsh, Head of LandEnhance