The previous government introduced temporary permitted development rights for office to residential conversions in May 2013, before making the rights permanent in October 2015.
From this date, applicants were permitted to convert existing office accommodation to residential dwellings without seeking planning permission. Instead, applicants were required only to make a ‘prior approval’ application. This is a light-touch application process by which a local planning authority is permitted only to consider transport and highways impacts, contamination risks and flooding risks.
Under the prior approval process, the local authority has no discretion to consider or apply any other planning policies in determining the prior approval application. This means that, for example, authorities may not seek to enforce minimum space standards or seek affordable housing contributions.
Certain areas of London, including the Central Activities Zone, the Canary Wharf area and Tech City, have been exempted from the permitted development rights until May 2019. This means that office accommodation in these areas still requires a full planning application to convert to residential use. The government introduced these exemptions in order to protect office accommodation considered to be of particular economic importance. After 2019, individual planning authorities may seek to reimpose the requirement for planning permission in specific areas or premises through an “Article 4” direction.