Monday, 14 July 2014

Office to residential – ministers enforce the rules

NOTE: There have been significant changes to the law since this blog post was published, and so the material printed below (including the appended comments) does not accurately reflect the current position. For completely up-to-date and fully comprehensive coverage of this subject, we would strongly recommend readers to obtain a copy of the author’s new book - “A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO PERMITTED CHANGES OF USE” published by Bath Publishing in October 2015. You can order your copy by clicking on the link on the left-hand sidebar of this page.

When Class J was added to Part 3 of the Second Schedule to the GPDO in May 2013, I predicted that some authorities would attempt to negate this change by making Article 4 Directions, but I pointed out that ministers have the power to cancel such directions. Sure enough, several authorities announced their intention to make directions, with the London Borough of Islington being first off the blocks with a blanket Article 4 Direction for its area.

It was a moot point as to whether there would be a confrontation between ministers and recalcitrant local authorities over this issue, and De-CLoG ministers finally made their position clear last week when Nick Boles made a written ministerial statement to the Commons.

He recognised that there may be very local reasons that mean these permitted development rights might not always be appropriate, and that LPAs do have the power to make Article 4 Directions. However, he pointed out that the National Planning Policy Framework provides that Article 4 directions should only be used in limited situations where it is necessary to protect local amenity or the wellbeing of the area. The Government’s planning guidance specifies that there should be particularly strong justification to withdraw permitted development rights where a direction applies to a wide area or where prior approval powers are available to control development.

In an earlier written ministerial statement of 6 February 2014, Boles reported that the London Borough of Islington had issued a blanket Article 4 direction which had the intended effect of removing permitted development rights for the conversion of offices to homes from the entire Borough area. National planning policy and guidance is clear that such expansive Article 4 directions require particularly strong justification, given the clearly stated public policy goal of liberalising the planning rules and helping provide more homes. It was the minister’s view that the Council had not provided this justification and so Islington had been ‘invited’ by ministers to narrow the scope its direction.

However, having considered Islington’s proposal for the Article 4 direction to apply to a reduced area, ministers have determined, in light of the tests set out in national policy and guidance, that it remains unacceptably expansive and unjustified. Taking into account the background of the significant need for new housing in London particularly, ministers have therefore taken steps to cancel Islington’s Article 4 direction in relation to Class J.

Boles made it clear that this revocation is intended to send a clear message that those who seek to oppose these changes to permitted development rights need to justify any Article 4 Directions and their extent. Clearly this is a warning shot across the bows of other LPAs, particularly in Greater London, against making widespread Article 4 Directions in an attempt to frustrate the use of permitted development powers for office to residential conversions. The London Borough of Richmond has announced its intention of making such a direction, but in light of the ministerial cancellation of Islington’s direction, Richmond had better think again. They are clearly not going to get away with a direction which is at all wide-ranging in its geographical scope. At best, an Article 4 Direction might be acceptable in certain core town centre areas, but these are likely to be strictly limited, and De-CLoG ministers can be expected to see to it that they are, if they accept them at all.



  1. This is a very tricky issue and I have two concerns which I believe will arise over the next year.

    a) The issue with ancillary offices in industrial buildings etc...; and
    b) The implementation of the change of use. Can you bank the COU by converting one (out of a number of units) before the cut off and change the use of the remaining units after.


  2. In answer to Chris’s query – (a) An office use which is ancillary to an industrial use is not a use with Class B1(a) and so does not qualify for conversion under Part 3. As for (b) - At this stage I cannot give a definite answer – maybe yes, maybe no.