By Andrew Morgan & Joe Whimpenny


Published 03 July 2023


Four councils recently made article 4 directions to remove Permitted Development rights under class MA to the General Permitted Development Order.

These rights were introduced in 2021 to apply to the new use class E, which now covers most commercial uses such as shops, restaurants and office space. The rights enable small class E buildings under 1,500 sqm to be converted into residential accommodation (C3) without full planning permission. Only a "prior approval" application is required that deals with far more limited issues such as transportation, and the impact on intended occupiers in relation to noise and natural light

One council also blocked class ZA which permits the demolition of small detached commercial buildings and their replacement with C3 residential.

All of the directions were seeking to remove the PD rights in almost all of their respective council's urban centres/industrial estates. This was done to protect these centres from losing significant quantities of commercial buildings, from any number of class E uses, without the safeguards available when considering each application under the existing planning process.

In each case the Secretary of State used its power under the GPDO to modify the directions and the areas covered were substantially reduced. In relation to the class ZA direction, Hertsmere had 6 of their 13 areas removed in their entirety.

The justification for the modifications was stated as paragraph 53 of the NPPF under which article 4 directions must "apply to the smallest geographical area possible" which is "unlikely to extend to the whole of a town centre".

The SoS also states that there are already national safeguards in place including "minimum space standards for the new units", size limitations on the PD rights and the requirement that the properties must have been vacant for 3/6 months.

These cases show the importance placed upon PD rights in the government's housing strategy and also an increasing use of centralised restrictions to mitigate the perceived negative impacts stemming from them.

While these PD rights provide useful flexibility for smaller commercial spaces, the floorspace limitations mean that it is unlikely significant numbers of new housing units will be created in relation to national targets.

What is clear however is that local authorities are increasingly being asked to provide stronger justification for stepping away from the national legislative position and to restrict these actions to more targeted areas when doing so.