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New rules to consider when converting a commercial building to residential

Posted by Georgia Armin on 13th April 2021

A new national permitted development right is coming into force, allowing commercial, business and services use (currently in Use Class E) to be converted to residential property without the need to submit a full planning application.

The government is hoping the new permitted development right will have a positive effect on high streets and other derelict areas following the pandemic, enabling life to be given to vacant buildings.


The new right is subject to various conditions:

  • Prior approval from the Local Planning Authority must first be obtained (see below).
  • It will not apply to buildings with a floor space of more than 1,500 square metres.
  • The building in question must have been vacant for at least three continuous months immediately prior to the date of the application for prior approval.
  • It will only apply to buildings that have been in Class E (or, prior to 1 September 2020, any predecessor use class: A1, A2, A3, B1, D1(a), D1(b) or D2(e)) for at least two years before the application for prior approval.
  • It will not apply to listed buildings, buildings in sites of special scientific interest sites that are or contain scheduled monuments, safety hazard areas or military explosives storage areas.
  • Premises in National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Broads or any World Heritage Site will not benefit from the new right, but it will apply in conservation areas.

The legislation will come into force on 21 April 2021. However, an application for prior approval cannot be made until 1 August 2021.

Prior approval

Unlike a full planning application, an application for prior approval is only judged against fixed legal requirements, rather than more subjective planning policies set by the Local Planning Authority.

As such, under the new system, Local Planning Authorities will only be able to turn down applications on very limited grounds, including flooding risk, noise pollution and inadequate natural light. Homes produced will have to meet national space standards. In theory, at least, this should be a quicker process than applying for planning permission.


Use of the practice direction right will incur a fee of £100 per dwelling.

Timescale for Implementation

The change of use under the new right must be carried out within three years of the prior approval date.

If you are thinking about taking advantage of the new rights, we’d recommend you seek technical advice from a planning consultant before doing so – please feel free to contact us if you’d like us to put you in touch with a specialist who could assist you.

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