As the government continues with its radical planning reforms in order to help with housing delivery, new regulations announced 31st March 2021 extended permitted development rights to all of the Class E use class. Claire Shannon from Cheffins’ Planning & Development team explains the implications.

“These reforms mean that all properties which fall into Class E, (shops, financial/professional services, cafés/restaurants, medical health facilities, creche and nurseries, indoor sports/fitness, and office/business/light industrial uses), now have the ability to be converted into homes from the 1st August with only prior approval.

This will have a major impact on the UK’s town centres. Whilst the number of commercial to residential applications have risen consistently, particularly throughout the past year as the coronavirus pandemic has left many buildings redundant, by including the wide-ranging Class E use class within permitted development will mean that applications are likely to go through the roof when these new reforms begin in August. The key point here is that the Council have only 56 days to deal with prior approval applications as a part of permitted development, in comparison to gaining full planning permission which currently, in most cases are taking significantly longer than their usual eight weeks timescale, and with this quick turnaround now possible, there will be undoubtedly be a fast and significant increase in town centre development. In addition, under permitted development, should the Council not determine the application within the 56 day timeframe, it will automatically be approved. This brings with it options and flexibility for freeholders of town centre buildings and also developers who could take the opportunity here to capitalise on the current demand for housing.

These reforms are likely to take the pressure off of building on greenfield sites, however there are certainly going to be questions over whether this could create a shortage of much-needed public services in town centres, as buildings occupied by cafes and restaurants, medical health facilities, creches and nurseries will now have the ability to be converted with only prior approval from the local Council.

As always, prior approval applications are more complicated than perhaps at first glance, and there are some key points to note here with these reforms. The prior approval conversions will only be allowed should the building have been vacant for three months before the date of the application; the building has to have a floor space of at least 1,500 sqm and the approval will also need to take into account flooding, noise, adequate natural light and also the impact on wider society should those buildings in question be taking the place of services.”

Looking at the influence of these reforms on the commercial property space, Philip Woolner, joint Managing Partner and Director of the Commercial Division at Cheffins says:

“Whilst there is some logic to increasing the flexibility of use of underused buildings in some of our urban areas, and we certainly do have a housing shortage in this country, these planning reforms affect not only town centres but other Class E locations including business and industrial parks and rural locations, and will undoubtedly have unintended consequences.  I can foresee issues arising over the compatibility of neighbouring uses – residential in the midst of a business or industrial park, and town centres interspersed with “dead” retail frontages of converted former shops may actually reduce the attractiveness and retail footfall rather than enliven it.  This is an incredibly blunt instrument from the government to use to tackle the housing shortage and will lead to wide-scale confusion – at what point does a planning application become necessary and will every local planning authority apply the rules in the same way? Looking at it locally, these changes are unlikely to have a major impact on Cambridge for example, where there are fewer empty commercial properties, and values are high.  In our Cheffins Datapoint research released in February, prime rents for office stock in Cambridge are at £48.50 per square foot, and availability continues to be low, with only 125,000 sqft of accommodation obtainable at the end of 2020. However in secondary or tertiary areas of the city, as residential values continue to outweigh those for retail, office or industrial buildings, there will certainly be a temptation from many to make the most of this opportunity and to cash in on the booming housing market. It is clearly a headline grabber for the government but most in the property profession think it has been rushed through without proper thought and will further undermine the planning system.”

For further information on the new permitted development rights, contact Claire Shannon from the Cheffins Planning & Development team on t: 01223 271972, e: or visit