What are permitted development rights?

1. Section 57(1) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (“the 1990 Act”) states that planning permission is required for any development of land, as defined at section 55(1) of that Act. However, it is not always necessary for a developer to make individual applications for planning permission. Some developments are covered by national grants of planning permission, thanks to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development)(England) Order 2015.

2. These regulations are intended to ensure that the planning system responds proportionately to development, saving those who wish to undertake relatively minor works the time and expense of submitting a full planning application.

3. At Article 3(1) the Order provides for planning permission to be granted for those classes of development set out in Schedule 2, which is sub-divided into a series of Parts, each of which concerns a different type of development. For example, Part 1 sets out permitted development within the curtilage of a dwellinghouse, Part 3 describes permitted changes of use, and Part 4 provides the rules on temporary buildings. The Parts are further sub-divided into Classes, which set out the specific permissions, exceptions, limitations or conditions.

4. While it is tempting to focus solely on what is permitted it is important to note any exceptions, limitations or conditions set out in the Regulations or elsewhere, including whether the Local Authority has placed restrictions on permitted development rights on the site or area identified for development, and any requirements for prior approval or notification. Accordingly, careful consideration of the regulations is advised prior to starting any development, in order to avoid potential costs down the line.

Changing commercial, business and service buildings into dwellings

5. Schedule 2 Part 3 Class MA permits the change of use of any Class E building – that is, one used for commercial, business and service purposes – into a Class C3 dwellinghouse.

6. Prior to 5 March 2024 these rights were subject to two important limitations: first, development would not be permitted if the cumulative floorspace of the existing building changing use exceeded 1,500 sqm; and second, the building had to be vacant for a continuous period of at least three months immediately prior to the date of the application for prior approval.

7. However, the entry into force of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) Order 2024 on 5 March 2024 did away with these restrictions, with the result that there is no longer an upper limit on the size of building which can be converted, and there is no requirement for it to have been vacant for any period prior to the submission of the application for prior approval.

8. Several other restrictions do remain in force, so developers are advised to review Class MA thoroughly, paying particular attention to paragraphs MA.1, MA.2 and MA.3 and seeking specialist legal advice in the case of any uncertainty.