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Planning Reform: Opportunity Knocks

Planning consultant David Kemp BSc (Hons) MRICS Barrister* (*non-practising) and Director at DRK Planning Ltd, comments

It has been a very busy year for proposed changes to the Planning system. With a General Election on the horizon, the enactment of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act 2023 and a number of new changes proposed to existing permitted development rights, there is a lot to bring together and there will be opportunities – and challenges – arising for developers.

As this year draws to a close, we bring together a brief outline of the main changes and try to highlight some areas for new opportunities for the SME developer market.

Class MA and ‘larger buildings’
The Government signalled via a White Paper consultation in July 2023 its willingness to open Class MA permitted development to buildings of over the current 1,500sqm (16,000sqft) limit. It would also look to remove the current 3-month vacancy restriction on this PD right.

The latter will open up easier and more obvious advantages to SMEs than the former, through enabling PD applications to be submitted earlier and without having to lose a tenant first, ensuring the continuation of a possible source of short-term income from the current tenant whilst having to invest in the planning process.

Proposals to double or abolish the current size restrictions, whilst grabbing the headlines, will not be instantly as advantageous as it may sound. Firstly, savvy agents and owners that are aware of this change, will undoubtedly guide unfeasibly high prices on their land, perhaps ‘supported’ by architects’ plans showing a proposed full PD conversion scheme. Secondly, some of these buildings are likely to be rather deep in parts, leading to the potential for large areas of ‘dead’ residential space. Often, before submitting bids on such sites, a quick ‘once-over’ by a Daylight and Sunlight consultant will confirm that the numbers will not ‘stack’ on the basis of a residential conversion on such buildings.

Unless such larger buildings can comprise significant building works to create lightwells and courtyards (i.e. structural work), then it is expected that the winning strategies for such buildings are likely to be based on some form of commercial use, multi-lets, co-living or possibly hotel and leisure use. Knowledge of the costs involved and the local market for such uses will likely dictate the strength of future bids for such opportunities. 

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