The permitted development (PD) rights, which enable a change of use from office use (B1a) to residential use, subject to the prior approval process, have caused much debate. While many developers have welcomed this cutting of red tape, some smaller businesses have complained they are losing affordable office space. Indeed, statistics show that more than 800,000 square feet of office space has already been lost in Westminster.
Initially, these PD rights were subject to the requirement that any new residential unit must be in use by 30 May 2016. However, the government recently closed a consultation on extending these PD rights indefinitely, although the new rights will also be subject to Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) being able to refuse the prior approval application if the development is likely to result in significant loss of the most strategically important office accommodation. The consultation also proposes scrapping the areas of exemption which had previously been granted to some local authorities, particularly in London, with strategically important business districts. The ability for LPAs however, that were not exempted (either in full or part) to make Article 4 Directions, will remain (these remove defined permitted development rights for usually a much more tightly drawn area than the blanket exemption granted under the regulations).