Just under half of London’s local planning authorities have introduced or intend to introduce a ban on developement under the commercial-property-to-housing permitted development right (PDR) introduced this month, citing concerns over a loss of business space and poor-quality homes, a Property Week investigation has revealed.

High Street decline, Stoke

Class MA PDR allows developers to convert high street units to housing

Source: Shutterstock/ RMC42

Under the government’s new Class MA PDR, which was unveiled on 1 August, it is now possible to convert most commercial buildings – including high street units and offices – to residential use.

However, a Property Week investigation, which involved more than two months of correspondence with London’s 35 local planning authorities, has revealed that 17 of them have either introduced or have plans to introduce an Article 4 direction (A4D) to prohibit Class MA PDR. These bans will come into effect from 31 July 2022 when any bans introduced on the old office-to-resi PDR will cease to have effect.

The boroughs of Camden, Croydon, Hammersmith and Fulham, Islington, Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Wandsworth, Westminster, Brent, Hounslow, Merton, Redbridge and Richmond, as well as the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation and the City of London Corporation, are all at various stages of implementing an A4D for the new PDR.

Only the boroughs of Lewisham, Ealing, Havering, Newham and Sutton, as well as the London Legacy Development Corporation, said they had no plans to introduce an A4D for the new PDR.

The boroughs of Greenwich, Barking and Dagenham, Barnet, Bexley, Enfield, Haringey, Hackney, Hillingdon and Waltham Forest said they were undecided on the issue. The boroughs of Kingston, Bromley and Harrow did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Explaining Camden’s decision to introduce an A4D, councillor Danny Beales told Property Week the new PDR “risks the loss of valuable business spaces and thousands of employment opportunities” and “often leads to poor-quality unaffordable housing”.

The responses from London local planning authorities in full

Camden: Cllr Danny Beales, cabinet member for investing in communities, culture and an inclusive economy, said: “Article 4 directions are vital tools for the council to prevent unsuitable developments and to protect our local high streets and the Camden economy. That’s why we are working to introduce ‘non-immediate’ article 4 directions to remove permitted development rights for conversions from offices, light industrial and high street uses into housing in July 2021, so they can come into force before the start of August 2022.

“These permitted development rights not only risk the loss of valuable business spaces and thousands of employment opportunities, as well as damage to our high streets, but they also often lead to poor quality unaffordable housing, which only benefits speculative developers and not local people, so we must have the planning powers to stop this.”

Greenwich: A spokesperson for the council said: ”The Royal Borough of Greenwich is considering options to extend the article 4 direction at 2-4 Pier Walk and 6 Mitre Passage in the North Greenwich District Centre after 1 August 2022, and to make new article 4 directions in other parts of the borough.”

Hammersmith and Fulham: A spokesperson for the council said: ”The council is looking into the introduction of a new article 4 direction.”

Islington: A spokesperson for the council said: “We can confirm we are looking to renew the existing article 4 directions once they lapse, including the office to residential direction.”

Kensington and Chelsea: A report published by the council said: ”The council is concerned that, unfettered, the new system of prior approval will result in: the significant loss of the borough’s stock of office floorspace, where the floorspace of the existing office building is of 1,500 sq m or less; development which will harm the vitality and viability of our town centres; the widespread loss of smaller shops within our neighbourhood centres and peripheral parts of some larger centres; a reduction in the diversity of uses in the borough, so essential to its special character; the loss of employment opportunities within the retail and business sector across the borough; the destruction of important business clusters; and the loss of 14,600 office jobs.”

Lambeth: The council has made three A4Ds for the new PDR.

Lewisham: The council has an article 4 direction in place which “withdraws permitted development rights for the change of use of dwelling houses in Class C3, to small houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) in Class C4 in four Lewisham Wards (Bellingham, Downham, Grove Park and Whitefoot)” and one which ”withdraws permitted development rights for works to buildings within selected conservation areas and to specified buildings of historic interest”. A spokesperson said: “the council is not currently considering the revocation of these article 4 directions.”

Southwark: The council has made four A4Ds for the new PDR.

Tower Hamlets: A spokesperson said: “We are currently working on our approach to article 4 directions given the recent changes to permitted development rights. The central activities zone and Northern Isle of Dogs were originally exempt from the office to residential permitted development rights when introduced in 2013 and subsequently covered by an article 4 direction and this is something we would be seeking to continue.”

Wandsworth: A council report recommending the introduction of an article 4 direction for the new PDR said: ”The new PDR will include prior approval restrictions related to proven vacancy, floorspace, residential amenity and preserving some community uses. However, the missing element is the ability to consider the impact on the high street, and its vibrancy, vitality, and viability. There will be an almost ‘free for all’ for shops and other town centre uses to change to residential from 1 August 2021.”

Westminster: A statement on the council’s website said: ”The making of the proposed article 4 direction would help enable the city council to use its planning powers to secure an appropriate balance of uses in the CAZ and facilitate economic recovery. In particular it would help ensure the availability of a range of commercial space to support the delivery of good growth in Westminster – which brings the maximum benefits for residents, workers, visitors and businesses in accordance with the objectives of City for All, and the policies in the Westminster City Plan. It would also help ensure new developments meet a wide range of policy objectives including responding to the climate emergency, contributing towards the delivery of affordable housing, and supporting enhanced infrastructure provision.”

Barking and Dagenham: A spokesperson said: “We have not made a decision on whether to introduce an article 4 direction for the new Class E to residential permitted development right. We are still intending to introduce an article 4 direction for upward extensions on existing residential and commercial properties on 22 February 2022.”

Barnet: A spokesperson said: “The council is closing undertaking property and planning due diligence to evidence whether a new article 4 direction should be introduced to support withdrawing PDR for all uses within Class E (commercial, business and service) to change to use Class C3 residential under a new class MA in the general permitted development order (GPDO).”

Bexley: A spokesperson said: ”With regards to the new permitted development right to change use from the new E use class to residential, we are considering the use of article 4 directions to require planning permission, with the focus on our shopping parades and our industrial areas (not borough-wide A4Ds). This is noted in our draft local plan.

“This work is only at the evidence gathering stage – we have not completed this, which is why we’ve not introduced any new A4Ds by the cut-off date of 31 July 2021 (in order for them to be in place by 1 August 2022).”

Brent: A spokesperson said: ”Brent Council currently has two article 4 directions, which removed the permitted development rights for B1(a) offices to C3 dwelling houses conferred by Class O of the General Permitted Development Order (GDPO), which Class MA allows to be retained until 31 July 2022. These cover the whole borough, where Brent Council is the local planning authority.

“In response to changes to the GDPO over the last year, the council’s cabinet recently considered a range of options for removing permitted development rights through new article 4 directions.

“These were approved and allow the council to continue to plan for the need for office and industrial uses properly, whilst also seeking to protect the vitality and viability of ground floor town centre frontages. These orders will likely come into effect on 1 August 2022.”

Croydon: A council report said: ”The 1 August 2021, saw the introduction of new permitted development (PD) rights for Class E uses classes (commercial, service or business use) to residential. This means that any premises in this use class under 1,500 square metres, empty for three months or more can, subject to certain other conditions and limitations, be converted to residential through a prior approval process, with only extremely limited control by the local planning authority (LPA). The PD rights includes conservation areas. The existing town centre office to residential article 4 direction in place until 31 July 2022 will protect equivalent development until its expiry.”

Ealing: A spokesperson said: ”There are no plans to introduce any further A4Ds in the immediate future.”

Enfield: A spokesperson said: ”We chose not to progress a non-immediate office to residential article 4 direction ahead of 31 July. We are actively considering options for Class E (the class created in 2020 comprising ‘commercial business and service use’) to residential article 4s.”

Haringey: A spokesperson said: “The council is considering its options. The council’s response to the government consultation regarding permitted development rights suggested that existing article 4 directions should be continued.”

Havering: A spokesperson said: ”We do not have an article 4 direction in place for office to residential permitted development and we are not intending to introduce one before 31 July.”

Hillingdon: A spokesperson said: ”The council has several article 4 directions in place which prohibit conversion of offices to residential buildings. They are operating in selected parts of the borough where offices are protected in line with the requirements of the local plan. These locations include Uxbridge town centre, Stockley Park and along Bath Road.

“We have a further article 4 direction which is used to protect additional residential properties from being converted to houses in multiple occupation in Brunel and Uxbridge.

“In response to the introduction of the Class MA permitted development right, the council is considering options for a new article 4 direction, though a formal decision has not yet been made.”

Hounslow: A source close to the council said it was “pursuing the option” of introducing an A4D for the new PDR.

Merton: A spokesperson said: ”We will be revising our existing article 4 directions but haven’t started yet due to resources being deployed on other projects at the moment.”

Newham: A spokesperson said: ”We don’t currently have any office-to-resi article 4s and there are no plans to introduce them.”

Redbirdge: Cllr Sheila Bain said: “Yes, another [A4D] will need to made and implemented for 1 August 2022. The plans to replace the article 4 directions at Hainault Business Park will need to be progressed before 31 July 2022 so that the new article 4 direction will be in place for 1 August 2022.”

Richmond: A statement on the council’s website said: “Recent government changes in planning rules mean commercial premises such as shops, cafes, offices and gyms could be converted to houses or flats without the need for planning permission – by using a permitted development right.

“The council is taking action to remove this permitted development right in selected locations across the borough to protect town centres, high streets, local shopping parades and key employment areas from being turned into housing without the need for planning consent.”

Sutton: A spokesperson said: ”There are no plans at present to either scrap or introduce new article 4 directions.”

Waltham Forest: A spokesperson said: ”Like many outer London boroughs, no decisions have yet to be made on whether to extend or expand A4D. With the introduction of the new Class E, in common with other London boroughs we will need to collect fresh evidence. As existing article 4 directions in respect of the change of use from offices to residential will continue to have effect until 31 July 2022, this suggest that any new A4D would follow 12 months later to allow for data to be collected.”

Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC): A spokesperson said: ”OPDC is planning to introduce a new article 4 by August 2022. Our proposals were approved by our planning committee and are due to go to our board in June. Subject to approval at board, we will then be consulting on the proposed changes.”

City of London: A council report said: ”To ensure that the City Corporation retains local planning control over proposals for changes of use from offices to residential, a new article 4 direction removing permitted development rights from offices (Class E(g)(i) to residential (Class C3) is required. A non-immediate article 4 direction is therefore proposed to come into effect from 1 August 2022.”

London Legacy Development Corporation: A spokesperson said: ”We have no Article 4s in place and currently have no plans to introduce any.”

The boroughs of Kingston, Bromley and Harrow did not respond to repeated requests for comment.