Commercial Property change of use from office to residential


Commercial Property change of use from Office to Residential – Permitted Development Rights Made Permanent. 

It is generally the case that you will need planning permission to change from one Use Class to another, although there are exceptions where legislation does allow some movement.

The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (England) Amendment Order 2016 came into force on 6 April 2016. The order introduced permitted development rights in England to change the use of offices falling in Class B1(a) to residential falling in Class C3. The right to convert from B1(a) to C3 was first introduced on a temporary basis in May 2013 where any proposed conversion had to be completed by May 2016, and the 2016 Order now makes those rights permanent.

Though the permitted development rights governed by the Order are generally applicable to properties that are used as offices falling in Class B1(a), the Order has also introduced a permitted development right for the change of use of light industrial properties in Class B1(c) to residential. This is a temporary right and only runs until 1 October 2020. Further, the Order permits a change of use of launderettes to residential.

Planning permission or prior approval?

The effect of the Order is that no application to the local authority to obtain planning permission for a change of use from office to residential is necessary. However, although a development is ‘permitted’, it does not entirely remove the requirement for consultation with the local authority.

Permitted development rights are subject to ‘prior approval’. Prior approval requires the developer to obtain the consent of the local authority to specified elements of the development before work can proceed. The following list details the potential impacts of a proposed change of use that a local authority reviews before giving approval:

  • Transport and highways
  • Contamination risks
  • Flood risks
  • Noise

Applications for prior approval are far less prescriptive and costly than applications for planning permission.

Exemptions and exclusions

Permitted development rights in England are not applicable to the whole of the country; there are exclusions to certain areas and buildings, namely:

  • Conservation areas
  • Areas of outstanding natural beauty
  • National Parks (and certain land outside the boundaries of National Parks)
  • The Broads
  • World Heritage Sites

In addition, there are 17 local authorities that are exempt from the permitted development rights, and exemptions will remain in force until 30 May 2019. Beyond this date, an Article 4 direction is necessary should the local authorities wish to remove the permitted development rights. The effect of an article 4 direction is that a change of use from office to residential will not be possible without the grant of planning permission. Exempt local authorities include the City of London, the London Central Activities Zone and Manchester City Centre. These areas have strategically important office accommodation which justifies the increased levels of protection.


Notwithstanding the Order, planning permission may still be required! It is only the change of use that is permitted, not the actual conversion and permission must still be obtained for these works. Additionally, the developer must still adhere to the stringent regulations for residential property development and the requirement to obtain Building Regulations Consent. The developer should also be aware of any covenants affecting the title to the property restricting its use to commercial only.


The main driving factors behind these changes in policy are to support the growth of the economy by unlocking the potential of underused buildings and increasing the national housing stock. Protecting the country’s treasured greenbelt is a positive advantage and one that has not been overlooked by policy makers.

Free Initial Discussion 

It is crucial to seek professional advice if you are considering embarking on an office to residential project, no matter how big or small. For further information please contact the Commercial Property Team at Blackstone Solicitors on 0161 9290121.  Alternatively, you can email us on


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