In an attempt to help the transformation programmes of Town centres, the Government have changed legislation in order to allow the change of use of premises from one business use to another without planning permission (called permitted development rights).
The changes apply to premises used by retail, restaurants, professional services, certain medical, creche and daycare uses and some indoor sport, recreation and fitness uses.
This will make it a good deal easier for local authorities and placemakers to encourage building owners and tenants sitting with vacated formerly retail properties to change their use to town centre housing or alternative uses such as cultural or community spaces.
This is a positive step forward in the revitalisation of empty (and soon to be empty) high street space.
However, according to Amanda Beresford, Partner and Head of Planning Schofield Sweeney, the new rules are not as straightforward as may first seem.
She points out that businesses who lease their premises will need to review the user clause in the lease and any restrictive covenants which restrict the use of the property.
In addition, there may be existing planning permissions, planning agreements or Article 4 directions imposing conditions or restricting use.
And, if external building alterations are needed to convert premises, these will still be subject to the current planning permission regime.
The new regulations also do not apply to shops under 280m2, community halls, swimming pools, skating rinks and outdoor sports facilities, schools, museums, libraries, exhibition spaces, places of worship and law courts, pubs, takeaways, cinemas, concert venues and night clubs.
The new changes are welcome and are a signal that the Government is open to creating the right environment for Towns and High Streets to transform themselves in a new way to aid recovery – but they do not give ‘carte blanche’ to transform buildings without regard.
The message is positive – but proceed with caution.