Offices to residential conversion: The details emerge

Offices to residential conversion: The details emerge


Author: Matthew Stimson

The Government has amended the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 to make it possible to convert Class B1 office buildings to Class C3 residential dwellings without having to apply for planning permission.

The Amendment Order was laid before Parliament on 9 May and will come into force on 30 May.


The rights only extend to the change of use of the building and to internal alterations and fit out.

Any external building work associated with the conversion (such as work to create or alter an existing entrance or to install balconies) will require planning permission.

The rights also do not extend to listed buildings or schedules ancient monuments or sites in a safety hazard area or a military explosives storage area.

Temporary measure

The rights will only exist for a limited period of three years. Conversions after 30 May 2016 will once again require an application planning permission.


Before the conversion can take place, the developer must apply to the council for a determination as to whether prior approval will be needed as to:

  • transport and highways impacts of the development
  • contamination risks on the site
  • flooding risks on the site

The application must include a written description of the development, a site plan and the developer's contact details. A fee may also be charged for the application.

The council will then consider the proposals and, where necessary, consult relevant statutory bodies, members of the public and adjoining owners.

In terms of transport and highways impacts, the council must form an opinion as to whether the development 'is likely to result in a material increase or a material change in the character of traffic in the vicinity of the site'.

In the case of flooding, the issue is whether the site is in flood zone 2 or 3 or, if is in an area within flood zone 1 that has critical drainage problems.

In respect of contamination, the council must decide whether the site is contaminated land under Part 2 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and, if it is, they must refuse to give their prior approval.

However, in all cases, the council must reach a decision as to whether or not its prior approval is required within 56 days (eight weeks) of the application.

Exempt areas

The new rights apply generally to the whole of England.

However, certain specific areas of England are exempt from the Order. These are: 

  • an area known as the Central Activities Zone and Tech City in London, which covers the whole of the City of London and parts of Islington, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Southwark, Lambeth, Wandsworth, Westminster and Camden 
  • the whole of Kensington and Chelsea 
  • the Isle of Dogs (Canary Wharf) 
  • the Royal Docks Enterprise Zone in Newham 
  • Manchester City Centre 
  • Milton Park Enterprise Zone and Harwell Enterprise Zone in the Vale of White Horse 
  • certain areas of Sevenoaks, Ashford and East Hampshire

In these areas, the change of use of a building from offices to residential will not be allowed unless planning permission has been granted on application by the council.

Other new permitted development rights

Other new permitted development rights are included in the Order. These include:

  • amendments to the rights in relation to home extensions
  • rights to change the use of certain buildings (offices, hotels, residential and secure residential institutions, and leisure facilities) into a state-funded school
  • rights to change the use of agricultural buildings of under 500 square metres for flexible use within Class A1 (shops), A2 (financial and professional services), Class A3 (restaurants and cafes), Class B1 (business), Class B8 (storage and distribution), Class C1 (hotels) or Class D2 (assembly and leisure)
  • rights to covert town centre uses (falling within use classes A1, A2, A3 and B1) temporarily for two years, to help bring vacant high street buildings back into use