Nick Boles, the Planning Minister, has announced a consultation on further changes to planning regulations making it easier to turn shops and other commercial properties into homes.

The aim is to stimulate housing and to transform town centres into one or two “prime streets” and address the problem of empty high streets. Online shopping now accounts for £1 in every £10 spent on retail sales and internet sales are growing at a phenomenal rate. An estimated 14 per cent of high street shops are empty. There are approximately 7,000 empty shops in London alone.

The proposal is to change “permitted development rights” to allow former retail properties outside the designated prime retail area of a town to be used for residential purposes without the need to apply for planning permission.

The proposals would also allow farmers to convert former agricultural buildings such as cowsheds or stables into housing.

This is in addition to the changes brought about by The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development Order) Amendment 2013 which came into effect on 30th May 2013. The Order sets out a number of measures granting new permitted development rights in England.  This Order already allows:-

  • The change of use of office premises to homes although this does not apply in 17 local authorities (mainly London Boroughs) and developers must first apply to the Local Planning Authority to determine whether approval is required regarding contamination or flood risks, or transport and highways impact.
  • The area for permitted change of use between light industrial and warehousing has been increased from 235 square metres to 500 square metres which will assist with business diversity.
  • Agricultural buildings, under 500 square metres, may be used for a number of new uses including shops or offices, to allow rural businesses to diversify.
  • Extensions or alterations to office buildings are permitted without planning permission for up to 50% of the gross floor space or 100 square metres. This is an increase from the previous limit but applies for a temporary period only, ending on 30th May 2016.
  • Premises located on the High Street may be used for new types of business without permission. Buildings that have a use class as retail, financial services, restaurants, pubs and hot food takeaways, offices, leisure and assembly can temporarily change to another of these uses. These premises can be used for retail, financial services, restaurants and cafes and offices for a single period of up to two years without the need to obtain planning permission.

Catherine North is a Solicitor in the Commercial Property Department. Catherine can be contacted on 0116 281 6226 or by email at

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