Rob Sellen | 22nd November 2021

Change of use from commercial to residential – conversions through permitted development rights

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Rob Sellen | 22nd November 2021

Change of use from commercial to residential – conversions through permitted development rights


A change of use from commercial to residential is available through the General Permitted Development Order (as amended) (2015). The Order enables certain development to take place without the need for formal planning consent.

How the Order could benefit change of use from commercial to residential

The following provides an update and overview of recent changes to the relevant Classes within the General Permitted Development Order (as amended) (2015) ‘the GPDO’ which may benefit existing commercial premises and provide a greater level of flexibility.

Class MA, Part 3, Schedule 2 (Commercial to Residential)

Class MA was enacted from 21 April 2021 with the ability to apply for prior approval from 1 August 2021. It enables the change of use of buildings and any land within its curtilage from a use falling with the new Class E (Commercial, Business and Service) of the Use Class Order to Class 3 dwellinghouses. Class MA effectively replaces the two former commercial to residential permitted development rights, these being:

  • Class O (office to residential); and
  • Class M (shops and financial and professional services to residential).

Key points to consider – what’s changed?

Vacancy period

The first point which stands out as being different from the preceding Class O and Class M is the requirement for the premises to be vacant for a continuous period of 3 months prior to the date in which the application for prior approval is made. It is worth noting that closure due to adverse impact on businesses caused by the pandemic do not count towards this.

Designations affecting the use of Class MA

There was previously a difference in the prescribed designated areas which prohibited conversions by Class O and Class M. These designated areas between the two former Classes have been amalgamated within Class MA. The following designations of land prohibit the use of Class MA:

  • Land covered by, or the building(s) forms part of:
    • a safety hazard area or a military explosives storage area;
    • a listed building or land within its curtilage;
    • a site of special scientific interest; and
    • AONB, National Park, the Broads or Word Heritage site

If the land lies within a conservation area and the change of use includes the ground floor, the impact of the change of use on the character or sustainability of the conservation area must be addressed as part of the prior approval process.

Floorspace limitation

Previously Class O offered no restriction in terms of the amount of floorspace which could be converted from office to residential, whereas Class M included the restriction of up to 150sqm (cumulative). Class MA now includes a restriction of up to 1500sqm cumulative use.

Duration of existing use

Class MA adopts a simpler approach to longevity of existing use and requires the use of the building falling within Class E to have been used continuously for this use for at least 2 years prior to the date of application for prior approval.

Article 4 Directions

Class MA enables Article 4 directions made before 1 August 2021 which apply to office to residential conversion (Class O) to continue to be applied up until 1 August 2022. We can therefore expect to see new Article 4 directions to be made to apply to Class MA from this point on and for existing Article 4 directions to be replaced by this date.

Prior approval matters

The impact on a conservation area is a newly worded prior approval consideration that is addressed alongside ‘Designations affecting the use of Class MA’ above. Also, of particular note is the increased emphasis on details relating to transport impacts, with details relating to safe site access to be addressed.

Although not entirely recent, the prior approval considerations have since been expanded to require further details to be provided as permitted development rights continue to play a greater role in the control of development. This includes the requirement for residential units being created to demonstrate adequate access to natural light.

A further stipulation was also included from 5 April 2021 within Article 3 of the GDPO. This requires the gross floorspace of residential units created to not fall below 37sqm and to adhere to the nationally described space standards.

Class G, Part 3, Schedule 2 (Commercial to mixed use)

As of 1 August 2021, Class G enables up to two flats to be created above a commercial unit which falls into Class E use. It also allows up to two residential units to be created above betting shops and payday loan shops. Prior to August 1st, Class G only benefitted the Class A1 and A2 uses, as well as a betting office or pay day loan shop.

There are no restrictions in using Class G relating to designated areas, however listed building consent must be considered where relevant.

Since August 1st there is now the requirement to apply to the local planning authority for a determination as to whether the prior approval of the authority will be required. The matters relating to prior approval within Class G are:

  • contamination risks in relation to the building;
  • flooding risks in relation to the building;
  • impacts of noise from commercial premises on the intended occupiers of the development;
  • the provision of adequate natural light in all habitable rooms of the dwellinghouses; and
  • arrangements required for the storage and management of domestic waste.

The latest version of Class G does not require a time limit to when the prior approval consent should be commenced or completed.

Class A, Part 7, Schedule 2 (Non-domestic extensions, alterations etc.)

From 1 August 2021 Part 7, Class A of the GDPO enables the extension or alteration of a commercial unit falling within Class E at ground floor level only. Previously this Class only benefitted Class A1 and Class A2 uses.

A minor recent change to this Class is that any alteration is not permitted which extends beyond the building line rather than the shop front. Again this clarity is required as the Class applies to more than just shops and financial services now.

Designated areas, such as National Parks, AONB’s or conservation areas do not exclude this right being exercised, but these areas do reduce the level of development permissable. Inside these designated areas the extension cannot exceed 5% of the original building or 100sqm, whichever the lesser.

Class V, Part 3, Schedule 2 (changes of use permitted under a permission granted on an application) (Dual-use)

Although this Class has existed since 2015, it still provides an extremely useful mechanism to allow flexibility in the form of dual-use.

Class V enables planning consent to be obtained to use a commercial unit for two separate uses which can be interchanged over 10 years, with the active use a the end of 10 years becoming the established lawful use.

To benefit from Class V a planning application needs to be submitted and approved. The application must specifically state that Class V is to apply and specifically outline the two uses subject to the dual consent.

Find out more

The Planning team at Paris Smith have the resources and expertise available to advise on how best to exercise permitted development rights, improve development value and enable greater flexibility offered by commercial premises.

Visit the Planning page on our website to find out more about the services our planning lawyers and planning consultants provide.