In recent years, the Government has introduced a series of Permitted Development rights which remove the need for planning permission for various forms of development.
The most recent, and arguably most controversial to date, is the new Class MA. From 1 August 2021, that allows change of use to residential from the wide range of commercial uses included within Class E.
An increasing number of local planning authorities, particularly in London, are now applying the brakes. Under Article 4 of the General Permitted Development Order 2015, local planning authorities can over-ride permitted development rights, and force applicants to seek planning permission instead. Government advice in the NPPF has recently been tightened up to make it more difficult for Councils to make Article 4 Directions, but many are doing so anyway.
The picture is complex, with some authorities’ Directions (e.g. the City of London) being blanket, and others’ only applying to particular parts of Boroughs (e.g. Southwark). Furthermore, the Directions only come into force after twelve months, opening a “window of opportunity” in the meantime – except in the case of office to residential conversion, where pre-existing Article 4 Directions will continue to apply for another year anyway.
What we are seeing is the latest episode in a “cat and mouse” game that has been going on for years, with Government trying to mould the planning system in certain directions, and local government often trying to resist those moves, and instead trying to move the system in other directions. The result, of course, is ever greater complexity and confusion.