Permitted development expanded for high street property

High Street, Hastings, East Sussex

Property developers in England are now able to convert a range of high street business properties into flats without the need for planning permission. The changes under Permitted Development Rights came into effect on 21st April although prior approval applications for the conversion of high street property to residential could not be submitted until 1st August 2021.

High street property, including gyms, shops, bars, cafes, restaurants and pharmacies that have been vacant for three months, can be converted under Permitted Development. The aim is to help high streets recover from failing businesses and at the same time ease the ‘housing crisis’.

A report was issued last year that assessed office properties converted to flats under Permitted Development since 2013. Only one in five flats was found to meet minimum space criteria and the report concluded that the system had led to ‘worse quality’ homes being built. Terminus House in Harlow, Essex, was highlighted as a particularly bad example, when violent crime in the area increased and the block of flats itself was described as a ‘human warehouse’.

As a result of this, the government introduced minimum space and light requirements for homes converted under Permitted Development.

An analysis by University College London for the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) looked at how the new rules might impact the high street. Looking at four high streets, in Leicester, Barnet, Crawley and Huntingdon, the report concluded that between 75% and 89% of commercial buildings including shops could be lost in these four towns once the new rules were introduced.

Chief executive of the TCPA, Fiona Howie, said that: “continuing to reduce the tools available to local authorities and communities to shape their local areas is not the way to revitalise our high streets or ‘level up’”.

A group of MPs has called for the expansion of permitted development rights to be paused, amid concerns over access to green space and the requirement for mixed housing within neighbourhoods.

However, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government disagrees. A spokesman rejected the analysis, saying that viable business would be protected and that only allowing the development to take place in premises that had been vacant for at least three months would help town centres thrive.