What do you mean I don’t need planning permission?

by on for Property Portfolio Investor

In the labyrinthine world of planning laws, there are certain provisions which allow you to change the use of the building without having to apply for planning permission. These are known as permitted development rights. You may have come across them in the context of the slightly controversial “office to residential” permissions, opposed by many local authorities.

For many years, the ability to change the use of certain types of premises to a restaurant, snack bar, or cafe (what is known as a class A3 user) without the need to obtain planning permission, could only happen in very limited circumstances, being a change from a drinking establishment, pub, bar or hot food takeaway. And in the case of pubs, only if they are not listed as an “asset of community value”. So far, so unexciting.

As from the end of April, the position became more interesting, with the introduction of much wider ‘permitted development’ rights, allowing a change from a much wider range of property types, the most interesting of which include retail shops, banks, betting offices, pay day loan shops and even casinos.

But as ever, the devil is in the detail and there are certain exclusions including, broadly,

  • where the cumulative floorspace of the existing building is more than 150 m² and
  • where the land or building is listed

And you can’t just get on and do it. Before any “permitted” development is actually commenced, you would need to apply to the local authority for a determination as to whether prior approval would be required in respect of matters such as noise, odour, storage and handling of waste, hours of opening and the siting of external flues and rubbish collection.

Also, the local authority might consider whether it is undesirable for the building to change use because of the possible impact on existing shops or financial institutions and, where the building is in a key shopping area, on the sustainability of that shopping area.

Don’t forget that where you might be stepping into an existing lease situation, there may be restrictions in that lease as to user and many office/financial institution leases limit the user strictly so you would need to negotiate the change of use with your landlord before going through the planning process.

There are of course other legal considerations in relation to changing use and as always, you would want to check out any other restrictions that there may be in relation to your proposed use, including the likelihood of getting an alcohol licence and your ability to carry out the necessary fit-out works for your proposed layout.

So, yes, you may no longer automatically require planning permission to change a retail or bank premises to an A3 use but don’t expect it to be an entirely straightforward process and there are conditions to be met in respect of which you may need to take professional advice.  This legislation does, however, mean that the pool of potential restaurant premises just got a little bit wider and in this world of soaring premiums and lack of stock, that’s got to be a good thing.