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Project Speed: Will accelerating infrastructure projects see a drift towards poorer quality developments?

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By Thomas Green

In an effort to revive and reenergise the declining footfall throughout high streets and town centres, the government has introduced new use classes and permitted development rights (‘PDRs’) as part of an initiative titled ‘Project Speed’. These changes have been designed to reduce the ‘red tape’ and unnecessary bureaucracy facing commercial property owners looking to adapt and flourish in the new, unpredictable coronavirus economy.

Use Classes

The biggest change in relation to commercial buildings has arrived in the form of the new Use Class E; encompassing uses previously contained within classes A1 to A3, B1 and parts of D1 and D2, all relating to general commercial, business and service uses. The mass grouping of these uses now means that those with premises utilised as shops, cafes, restaurants, gyms, banks, offices and any non-medical services are able to change the use of their premises to any other use within Use Class E without requiring planning permission.

New Use Classes F1 and F2 have also been created for learning, non-residential (F1) and local community uses (F2); incorporating the remaining uses from Use Classes D1 and D2, except for those already reallocated to Use Class E.

In a bid to allow scope for change, but protect those places considered ‘community assets’, a number of uses have been classified as sui generis, meaning that express consent is required from the Local Authority prior to any change of use. These places include cinemas, concert halls, takeaways, drinking establishments and bingo/dance halls.

Permitted Development Rights

In an endeavour to deflate the increasing pressure faced by government to allow development into the green belt, a series of PDRs have been introduced to promote brownfield redevelopment by way of a simplified application process. It allows for the demolition of vacant commercial and residential buildings, providing they are rebuilt for residential purposes. To take advantage of this change, the existing building must have been vacant for six months, built prior to 1990, be no higher than 18 metres, and no larger than 1,000m2.

In an effort to resolve the issues of space for outward development within brownfield sites, the government’s new PDRs promote building upwards by allowing those with existing purpose-built blocks of flats to construct two additional storeys of residential flats. However, eligibility to take advantage of this change is restricted to buildings built between 1 July 1948 and 5 March 2018, with the additional dwellings constructed being flats, built on the principal part of the original building.

Whilst these new PDRs boast a new, streamlined application process designed to reduce the bureaucracy typically complained of over the course of a development project, industry professionals have commented that the restrictions and prior approvals still required, including the design and external appearance of the development, provides ample opportunity for Local Authorities to object to a development.

Comment

At a challenging time for commercial property owners, the government is hopeful that the above changes will not only help re-energise high streets and town centres, but also help kick-start the struggling construction industry.

Whilst many commercial landlords welcome the opportunity to repurpose their properties to ensure the potential of their assets is realised, critics have warned that the deregulation could lead to a delivery of poorer quality homes. With the application of these changes still in its primitive stages, the impact of the government’s call to ‘build build build’ on the revitalisation of the high street remains to be seen.

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