HGH Consulting


Mind the Gap: Class MA

The Government has over the last year made several decisive moves to liberalise the planning system and move types of development, out of needing planning permission and into the realms of permitted development (PD). Generally explained with reference to helping the recovery of town centres, these changes undoubtedly represent an ideological shift.

3 potential pitfalls

The latest PD right is to allow change of use from most forms of commercial activity to housing. This is highly controversial, with many critics – interestingly, from property owners and investors as much as from local authority town planners. Government says it will help to avoid town centres being blighted with unused retail and other commercial space, as well as helping to boost housing supply. Critics point to the potential economic damage arising from businesses being forced out of premises to make way for housing; long lengths of “dead” frontage appearing in shopping streets; and poor quality housing being created by the conversion of unsuitable buildings in unsuitable situations.

Mixed motives

The net result will almost certainly be much more inter-mixing of land uses than in the past. This can be advantageous: people living in town centres and business areas can add vitality to those areas and provide natural surveillance. However, it can also represent problems stored up for the future: residents tend to object to business activity (delivery vehicles, early morning/late evening working, alarms, etc), making for uneasy bedfellows, and making it likely that there will be objections to proposals for new business premises or extensions to existing ones. Inadequate arrangements for parking, refuse storage, children’s play, etc can result in other types of conflict, and the urban environment being degraded. Furthermore, when areas need to be redeveloped, it is much more difficult for local authorities to acquire residential property in order to bring about regeneration.

A step forward?

There will undoubtedly be many beneficiaries of the new PD right in the short-term – particularly (given the restriction to 1,500 square metres) the owners/developers of small buildings. It is consistent with helping SME developers, which Government has for some time sought to do. However, the size limitation means that the conversion of large (or even medium-sized) office blocks, department stores, etc will not be covered, meaning that PD conversions are unlikely to make a major contribution to the delivery of new homes. Furthermore, for the reasons mentioned above, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that history will view this as a retrograde step.

The team at hgh has produced an updated Briefing Note on Class MA, downloadable via this link.


Roger Hepher, Executive Director, hgh Consulting
[email protected]

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