The UK Office-to-Residential Property Conversion Boom

By Sam Covington | Friday 24th September 2021 | 4 minute read

UK office properties have seen a significant drop in use in the last year. With COVID-19 making working from home a surprisingly viable alternative, the push to turn offices into residential properties has never been greater. 

And here's the surprise: it's actually possible to convert offices into houses without requiring planning permission. In most cases, permitted development allows property owners to avoid planning permission and jump straight into the renovation, provided they fulfil certain criteria. 

In this article, we'll discuss the newly revised permitted development, the factors involving prior approval applications, and how seamless property development finance is spearheading the conversion boom. 

UK Office-to-Residential Property Conversion Image

What is permitted development?

Permitted development gives UK commercial owners the right to renovate or convert certain aspects of the buildings without obtaining tedious planning permission. It's a right granted by the Government and not by local authorities. 

However, depending on certain conditions, permitted development can be significantly restricted. 

Cases where permitted development is invalid 

The cases where permitted development doesn't hold ultimate power are:

  • National parks
  • A world heritage site
  • The Norfolk and Suffolk Broads
  • An area of outstanding natural beauty
  • A conservation area

If you live in these areas, you'll need to get planning permissions for office property extension or renovation. 

Depending on the cultural and infrastructural significance, local authorities can also add exceptions to permitted development. Article 4 Direction gives local planning authorities the ability to protect certain areas.

Why do prior approval applications exist?

As you may have already realised, permitted development is not immune to exceptions. On top of certain limitations discussed above, owners may need to submit a prior approval application. 

Based on Class O introduced a few years ago, property owners were turning offices into residential properties that were not fit for acceptable quality of life. The biggest issue was the lack of proper windows to let in natural light, which eventually became big enough for the Government to pass a new law.

Class O has since then been turned into Class MA, and Class E now covers offices, restaurants, shops, and gyms. It also brings a much bigger focus on prior approval applications.

For permitted development, you'll need to submit a prior approval application to your local authorities, and they must respond within 56 days. You can not start working on the property without the council's approval. If you're confident about your case, you can look for property development financing options and bridging loans to raise capital. 

Why a prior approval application is better than full planning permission?

Prior approval may seem like a step that contradicts the idea of permitted development. Still, considering how inferior buildings have cropped up in recent times, it's a step in the right direction. 

Prior approval application is better because

  • Getting planning permission is often a slow and complex process. With prior approval applications, the council has to respond within eight weeks.
  • If your application abides by the use classes, the authorities cannot use additional criteria to judge your case. This removes the subjectivity of planning permission and makes the approval process much smoother.

Prior approval application process: key conditions to know

Certain conditions influence the success of prior approval applications. 

For starters, your property must stay vacant for at least three months before you apply. You cannot alter the external structure of the building as well. So you have to make sure the property gets adequate natural lights and avoid the Reliance House fiasco

Properly check whether it has parking spaces and openings for bins and bikes to pass through. It's also essential to make sure the fire exits don't come across as an afterthought. 

Contrary to Class O, the new and improved Class MA allows you to convert up to 1,500 sqm. This is a welcome change since under the old rule, you'd have to change the entire building. The size limit gives you the flexibility to turn the building into multiple-use classes. 

When you're permanently changing the use class to residential, here are some conditions that need to be considered:

Mixed-use to residential: The prior approval application should consider the impact of natural light, transport and highways and flooding. The local availability of launderette services will be considered if relevant.

Commercial, and service to residential: The prior approval application should consider the impact of natural light, transport and highways, flooding and noises coming from the commercial space. The local availability of healthcare, fire safety protocols and the impact of the commercial space on the tenants will be considered if relevant.

Casinos and other amusements to residential: The prior approval application should consider the impact of natural light, transport and highways and flooding. You can convert only 150m² of arcade floor space into a residential space.

Agricultural buildings to residential: The prior approval application should consider the impact of natural light, transport and highways, flooding, noise and the location. You can finance agricultural building modification to reflect residential conditions but you cannot create more than 5 separate dwellinghouses. 

What is protected development?

The recent changes have come into effect from August 2021, making a few provisions of the old law invalid. To ensure a smooth transition, the Government has validated the proposals based on the laws that existed till July 2021. These proposals are covered under protected development, and they'll continue to stay valid till July 2022. If your proposal falls under protected development, you need to contact your local planning authority as soon as possible. 

How Finbri can help you

Finbri is streamlining loan and finance solutions for UK property owners. If you're looking for property development finance, we can chalk out a plan so that you can quickly get the funds you require. 

To know more about how we can help your finances, get in touch with us today. 

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