The government has confirmed measures to enable office space to be converted into homes without planning permission.

Eric Pickles

Communities secretary Eric Pickles said the widely trailed plans, announced today, would enable empty and underused offices to be swiftly converted into housing.

He said the new permitted development right, which would remain in place for three years, would allow office space to be converted into new homes without the need for planning permission from the local planning authority.

However, he said local authorities would have an opportunity to seek an exemption from the change if they could demonstrate that there would be substantial adverse economic consequences.

He added that further reforms would enable a range of buildings to temporarily convert for up to two years, to enable town centre buildings to be able to easily convert to help new shops, business start-ups and community projects.

He said this would speed up the process of bringing vacate high street buildings back into use.

The measures would allow agricultural buildings to be converted for other business uses without the need for planning permission. He said under the measure buildings no longer suitable or needed for agricultural use could be transferred into new ventures that benefit rural areas, such as shops, restaurants, small hotels and leisure facilities and offices.

Pickles said: “We want to promote the use of brownfield land to assist regeneration, and get empty and under-used buildings back into productive use.Using previously developed land and buildings will help us promote economic growth, provide more homes and still ensure that we safeguard environmentally protected land.”

Planning minister Nick Boles said: “These new changes ensure the very best use is made of our existing buildings to provide new homes and makes sure we get the most use we can out of our previously developed land.

“These changes are an important step in improving the planning system and making sure it is in the best possible shape to swiftly adapt to changes and opportunities that can provide a big boost to the economy. We are determined to make sure perfectly good underused properties are converted for homes and uses that will benefit our communities.”

A consultation on relaxing change of use rules for commercial properties to residential was held in April 2011.

Planning shake-up: Key points

  • The new permitted development rights allow change of use from B1(a) office to C3 residential. Local authorities can seek an exemption to the permitted development rights to convert offices into homes if there are justified economic grounds. The secretary of state will only grant an exemption in exceptional circumstances.
  • The town centre uses that can convert temporarily for 2 years to other uses include shops (A1), financial and professional services (A2), restaurants and cafes (A3) and offices (B1).
  • Agricultural buildings will be able to convert up to a specific size still being determined. There will be a prior approval process for conversions beyond that size to guard against unacceptable impacts, such as flooding, transport and noise. The new permitted development rights for agricultural buildings do not allow conversion to residential dwellings.