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The government has expanded permitted development rights which allow buildings in other uses (such as offices) to be converted to homes without planning permission from the local planning authority. The use of permitted development rights to deliver housing has subject to significant debate.

Planning is a devolved matter, and this briefing focuses on England.

What are permitted development rights?

Planning permission from the local planning authority (LPA) is usually needed to undertake development, that is, to carry out building operations and/or to ‘materially’ change the use of a building or land.

Permitted development rights (PDRs) allow individuals and developers to make certain changes to buildings or land without the need to apply for, and obtain, planning permission from the LPA. PDRs are granted by Parliament and set out in law (the General Permitted Development Order).

Restrictions, conditions and limitations

Most PDRs are subject to certain conditions and limitations. Work that may be otherwise covered by PDRs may also be restricted in certain protected areas (for example, National Parks and conservation areas) and for listed buildings.

An LPA can also restrict certain PDRs in part of its local area using an ‘article 4 direction’ (so planning permission is required to carry out development that would otherwise be covered by PDRs). Government guidance advises LPAs to use article 4 directions in “a measured and targeted way”.

Some development is covered by PDRs but requires ‘prior approval’ from the LPA with regards to conditions set out in the General Permitted Development Order (such as design and external appearance). When deciding a ‘prior approval’ application, an LPA can only consider the conditions set out in the General Permitted Development Order for that type of development.

What is a ‘material change of use’?

Depending on how they are used, buildings and land fall into different ‘use classes’ in the planning system. These ‘use classes’ are set out in the Use Classes Order 1987. For example, Use Class E covers commercial, business and services uses (such as shops, restaurants and offices).

Some uses are not defined in legislation; they are ‘sui generis’ (a class of their own). Pubs, cinemas and betting shops are examples of ‘sui generis’ uses.

Changing the use of buildings and land between the use classes set out in the 1987 Order, or from or to a ‘sui generis’ use, is usually considered to be a ‘material change of use’ which requires planning permission from the LPA.

Permitted development rights for change of use

Planning permission is not required if a material change of use is covered by PDRs as set out in the General Permitted Development Order. For example, buildings in commercial, business or service use can be converted to homes without planning permission (subject to certain restrictions, conditions and limitations).

How many homes have been delivered through change-of-use permitted development rights?

Between 2015/16 and 2022/23, 102,830 new homes were delivered through change-of-use PDRs. Most of these homes (89%) were created through the conversion of offices and other commercial, business and retail units. New homes created through change-of-use PDRs made up around 6% of the net additional homes delivered between 2015/16 and 2022/23.

Views on the use of permitted development rights to deliver new homes

The government said PDRs can help speed up housing delivery by reducing the “bureaucratic burdens” of the planning system. It said PDRs can help meet its target of delivering 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s.

A 2020 study commissioned by the government found that homes created through PDRs resulted in “worse quality residential environments” than those that required planning permission from the LPA. The researchers argued that there was a need “to look beyond overall headline numbers to consider whether we are creating the right type of housing, in the right places” (PDF).

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee also expressed concerns that some homes delivered through PDRs were “of poor quality and situated in unsuitable places”. The Local Government Association also raised concerns that LPAs could not require developers to deliver affordable housing or supporting infrastructure for PDR schemes.

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