The Government has introduced changes to the Permitted Development legislation that may open up development opportunities for residential and commercial properties.

Existing blocks of flats, and buildings used for offices, research and development, or light industrial purposes, may be demolished and replaced either with a new block of flats, or with one new detached dwelling.  The building to be replaced must have been built before 1990, and have been vacant for at least six months before the date of application.  The new building cannot be larger than the footprint of the existing, with a maximum size of 1,000 square metres. However, it can be up to seven metres higher to accommodate up to two additional residential storeys.  A ‘Prior Approval’ process gives councils the opportunity to consider various matters including highways, flood risk, noise, design and appearance, and amenity issues.

A second regulation allows homeowners to extend their properties upward by up to two additional storeys.  There are restrictions on maximum height, and new windows in side elevations are not allowed.  A ‘Prior Approval’ application is required, for councils to consider the impact on the amenity of neighbouring premises, and the design of the proposal.  A similar right has also been introduced to allow the construction of new flats on top of existing commercial buildings and houses, again subject to a ‘Prior Approval’ process.  

The new rights do not apply to buildings constructed before 1 July 1948 or after 5 March 2018, or to buildings within Conservation Areas, National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, or Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

The Government has also overhauled the Use Class regulations for commercial and business uses.  Three new broad use classes - class E, class F1 and class F2 – have been introduced in England.  
 Class E "commercial, business and service" use class includes the existing class A1 (Shops), class A2 (Financial and professional services), class A3 (Restaurants and cafes), and class B1 (Business) use classes
 Class F1 relates to "learning and non-residential institutions" and includes any non-residential use for the "provision of education, for the display of works of art (otherwise than for sale or hire), as a museum, as a public library or public reading room, as a public hall or exhibition hall, for, or in connection with, public worship or religious instruction, as a law court".
 Class F2 relates to "local community" uses. This includes smaller shops "mostly selling essential goods, including food, to visiting members of the public in circumstances where the shop's premises cover an area not more than 280 metres square, and there is no other such facility within 1,000 metre radius of the shop's location". Such a shop is defined as "mostly for the sale of a range of essential dry goods and food to visiting members of the public". The Government advises that this "provides some protection for such shops while placing those shops found on high streets and town centres in the new 'commercial' class". F2 uses also include "a hall or meeting place for the principal use of the local community, an area or place for outdoor sport or recreation (not involving motorised vehicles or firearms), an indoor or outdoor swimming pool or skating rink".

Planning permission is not normally needed to change the use of a building within the same use class, so the new regulations open up greater flexibility for the use of commercial premises within the new cases.

Some uses have been given greater protection. Pubs (Class A4), takeaways (A5) and cinemas, concert halls, bingo halls and dance halls (D2) have become "sui generis" meaning that they are not in any use class. Therefore, planning permission is now required to change to and from these uses.  Other use classes, including industrial (B2), storage and distribution (B8) and the C-class residential uses remain unchanged.

For the purpose of permitted development rights only, the existing use classes will remain until 31 July 2021 when such rights are due to reviewed by the government.