Government introduces new permitted development rights to facilitate change of use

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The Government has announced the introduction of new permitted development (PD) rights in England to allow change of use from commercial, business and service uses (Class E) to a residential use (Class C3) without requiring planning permission.

The pandemic has impacted the high street and large retail units. The Government hopes that this move will give new life to buildings left vacant as a result and help to deliver more homes.

On 30 March 2021, the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) Order 2021 was made. This inserts Class MA (commercial, business and service uses to dwellinghouses) into Part 3 (Change of Use), Schedule 2 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015.  The new PD rights will come into force from 1 August 2021.

Prior approvals process

An application for prior approval will be required for the permitted change of use and will be considered by the Local Planning Authority on the following issues:

The impact of that change of use on the character or sustainability of the conservation area, including:

  • transport impacts of the development, particularly to ensure safe site access
  • contamination risks in relation to the building
  • flooding risks in relation to the building
  • impacts of noise from commercial premises on the intended occupiers of the development; where the building is located in a conservation area; and the development involves a change of use of the whole or part of the ground floor

The impact on the local provision of the type of services lost, including:

  • the provision of adequate natural light in all habitable rooms of the dwellinghouses;
  • the impact on intended occupiers of the development of the introduction of residential use in an area the authority considers to be important for general or heavy industry, waste management, storage and distribution, or a mix of such uses
  • where the development involves the loss of services provided by a registered nursery or health centre maintained under section 2 or 3 of the National Health Service Act 2006

In addition, developers will need to submit a floor plan showing the total floor space in square metres of each dwellinghouse. This will be subject to the space standards requirements.


The PD rights will be subject to certain limitations as follows:

  • The building must have been vacant for a continuous period for at least three months immediately prior to the date of the prior approval application
  • The use of the building must have fallen within one or more of the following classes for a continuous period of at least two years prior to the date of prior approval application
  • The cumulative floor space of the existing building changing use cannot exceed 1,500 square metres
  • Where the site is occupied under an agricultural tenancy, the express consent of both the landlord and the tenant are required


The PD rights will apply in Conservation Areas but not in National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Broads, areas specified by the Secretary of State for the purposes of section 41(3) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and World Heritage Sites. The usual exclusions to PD rights would also continue to apply for sites of special scientific interest, listed buildings and land within their curtilage, sites that are or contain scheduled monuments, safety hazard areas, military explosives storage areas and sites subject to an agricultural tenancy.


New Class E, which came into force from 1 September 2020, introduced flexibility into changes of use by grouping together commercial, business and service uses and allowing change between these uses without requiring planning permission. The extension to PD rights will provide further flexibility by allowing uses within Class E to change to residential use. When these new PD rights take effect, restaurants, medical facilities, creches, gyms and indoor sports facilities will be able to change to residential use without requiring planning permission. As with all PD rights, other regulations such as Environmental Impact Assessment and Habitats Regulations would apply.

If you would like advice or assistance on the new PD rights, then please contact us now and we will be happy to assist you.