Monday, 12 December 2016

Demolition and replacement of offices still on PD agenda

I have previously expressed some scepticism as to delivery of the government’s avowed intention (dating originally from 2014) to add the demolition and replacement of office buildings to Class O in Part 3 of the Second Schedule to the GPDO.

I referred a few weeks ago to a footnote in an obscure press release that came out during the Tory party conference in October, where this proposal was repeated; but the fact remains that the proposal, if it were to be pursued, would be fraught with all sorts of practical difficulties, and would require the consideration of a whole raft of additional matters in any prior approval application relating to such development. In the circumstances, it seems to me that little, if any, advantage would be gained by this means as compared with a straightforward application for planning permission.

Notwithstanding my scepticism, the government’s intention to pursue this proposal has been repeated in their response to the report of the House of Lords Select Committee on the Built Environment, published in November 2016 [CM 9347], which contains this passage in paragraph 198:

We are to extent [sic] permitted development rights even further, to allow for demolition of offices and replacement with housing on a like-for-like basis. This could provide around 4,000 new homes by the end of 2021.”

This comment was added, perhaps rather irrelevantly, to the government’s response to an observation by the House of Lords committee (quoted in paragraph 194) that “the Government should also consider strengthening the priority given to brownfield development, including considering the reintroduction of a ‘brownfield first’ policy at national level.”

The 4,000 figure was originally quoted in the October press release referred to earlier, although on what evidence (if any) is unclear. It looks very much like an unsubstantiated guess of the “think of a figure and double it” variety.

At our very successful seminar at the RIBA in November, launching the Second Edition of A Practical Guide to Permitted Changes of Use, Arita Morris, Director of Child Graddon Lewis, architects & designers, delivered an interesting paper on the practicalities of office conversions under Class O, which made it clear that many office conversions require planning permission for physical alterations and extensions in any event, bearing in mind that such operational development is excluded from the development permitted by Class O, so that the only physical alterations that can be carried out to the building without a separate planning permission are internal works not affecting the external appearance of the building, and which do not therefore constitute development by virtue of section 55(2)(a) of the 1990 Act.

In the past 30 years or so, it has been the practice to erect ‘deeper’ office buildings, which do not easily lend themselves to residential conversion, due to the lack of natural daylighting towards the centre of the building. It is presumably these more recent office buildings that would potentially be candidates for demolition and replacement if Class O were to be extended to allow this. There would nevertheless remain a question mark over the commercial viability of such a scheme, and the practicalities of this type of development might, as I have suggested, make a planning application a simpler way of dealing with a development of this sort.

So I am not expecting a further extension of permitted development rights under Class O any time soon. We shall have to see what 2017 brings, but don’t hold your breath.


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