When an application for prior approval or permitted development is submitted, developers face competition for officer attention on their applications, especially with larger and more complex applications.
Officers often do not look at PD applications until at least 5-6 weeks’ in, due to staffing and workloads. Therefore, it is important to prepare the case for prior approval thoroughly. Particular care should be taken in clarifying whether the site is subject to an Article 4 Direction, as sometimes there can be a lack of clarity at the local level about this.
In a recent case for a client, we were asked to withdraw the application by an officer who initially thought that the site was covered by an Article 4 Direction. This proved not to be the case and we managed to obtain prior approval within eight weeks.
The PD opportunity
The building in question comprises a 4-storey office building, which forms one half of a semi-detached block. It is located in a Strategic Employment Area. This is a Local Plan designation that seeks to prevent the loss of employment floor space in the area, but does not on its own withdraw or limit permitted development rights unless the Council also makes an Article 4 Direction.
The building comprised of about 4,500 sq ft of office floor space, with ample car parking in a reasonably central location to the local town centre. Neighbouring buildings on the same estate had already been converted to residential use and it was proposed to convert the offices in this building to 6 x 1-bedroom studio flats and a 2-bedroom, 3-person apartment.
Risks presented by business park sites
When looking at buildings on existing business parks for change of use from commercial to residential use, great care needs to be taken for a number of reasons.
Firstly, whether specifically designated or not in the local plan, most Councils will have their own local plan policies that seek to prevent the loss of such floor space. Normally, before converting such space to residential use by way of a full planning permission, commercial premises would need to be subject to robust open marketing for a period of 12 months (or however long is specified in the local plan). Therefore, PD helps to circumvent this as such restrictions are not relevant to PD.