Preventing Planning Problems 

Commercial to Residential Permitted Development - Class MA and new rules from 1st August 2021 

From 1st August 2021 the rules on commercial to residential conversions are changing. 
For some time it's been possible to make such conversions using Permitted Development (PD) rights. PD rights allow certain development to take place without planning permission. There is still a Prior Notification (often called Prior Approval) process to go through for most commercial to residential conversions. 
The new rules widen the type of commercial premises which can be converted and also set new criteria for such developments. 
August 2021 Update Note: Richmond and Wandsworth have followed Harlow and Kensingon and Chelsea in introducing a block on using the new Class MA Permitted Development rights. This means that you will need to apply for planning permission for such conversions. 

Lawful Development Certificates - What they are and what they aren't 

I often get asked to explain the difference between a Lawful Development Certificate and a planning permission. It can be confusing. 
A Lawful Development (or Use) Certificate (LDC) confirms whether an existing or proposed use or development is lawful. A development could be lawful for a number of reasons: 
It is permitted development that doesn't need permission. 
It is immune from enforcement action due to the 4 year or 10 year rule. 
It is not a material change of use of land or buildings - this can be the case even if there is a change in the Use Class. 
There are many reasons why you might want a Lawful Development Certificate. These could include peace of mind, to satisfy mortgage company requirements or to provide to another authority or organisation to prove you can operate lawfully.  
Sometimes you might get asked by the Council's Planning Department to submit an LDC where there is some doubt as to whether the use is lawful. 
A LDC application is judged only on the question of lawfulness. It isn't judged on the merits of the application and whether it complies with national or local planning policy or guidance. It is also decided based on the evidence provided at the time it was submitted and would confirm that somehting is lawful only at that point. If the use or development changes in the future it may not be lawful any longer. 
If you need advice on LDCs or any other aspect of planning please get in touch. 

Do you need planning permission for a small children's care home or supported living? 

I've been supporting a number of providers of to small children's care home and supported living for adults. This is a confusing area of planning and clients are often unsure if they need planning permission or not. 
This isn't always a straightforward question. Family homes and similar types of property usually fall under the C3 planning use class.  
In a High Court case North Devon DC v FSS [2003] EWHC 157 (Admin) the judge ruled that a children's care home with no adult residing permanently in the property was not a "household" and therefore could be Use Class C3. 
Children's care homes therefore fall under Use Class C2 which includes residential institutions. 
So if there is a change of use from C3 to C2 does it always mean I need permission. No, this isn't the case. Permission is only needed if there is a material change of use. 
Whether or not the change is "material" comes down to several factors: whether there has there been a noticeable change in the character of the use through traffic, parking, comings and goings, noise and disturbance. 
So, each case has to be looked at on its merits. 
Even if you don't need planning permission you may still need confirmation from the Planning Dept as part of your OFSTED registration. You can apply for a Lawful Development Certificate to get this formally confirmed. 
For more detail see my LinkedIn article on this topic - Do you need planning permission for a small children's care home or supported living? 

Need planning advice before you buy a property? Here are 3 things you should consider... 

Buying a property for development? Chances are you may need planning permission for your project. Knowing whether you are going to get permission is a key concern. You might want to try and find out as much as you can before you buy it. 
One question I often get asked is “can you just phone the Council and check if we will get planning permission?” 
Once upon a time you could have a chat with a planning officer over a cup of tea about your proposed development. You would get an opinion there and then. Generally you can’t do this now. Budget pressures mean the way planning departments provide advice has changed. If you want to make an enquiry you usually have to do it writing and you will often be charged for it. Charges can be high for pre-application advice. It may take weeks for planning authorities to respond. 
So this creates a dilemma for many property investors who need to make quick decisions. You don’t want the time and cost that can go with formal enquiries to the local Council. 
So what can you do… 
1. Get a planning consultant to do an appraisal for you. Planning consultants can review the site for you and advise on Council planning policies. They can give you a view on the likelihood of getting planning permission. An expert professional opinion can help inform your decision about whether to purchase a property or proceed with a planning application.  
2. Be clear on what you are proposing. Don't be too vague. Whether briefing a planning consultant or contacting the Council, you will get better good advice if you have a good idea of what you are proposing. Getting rough layouts drawn up by an architect is important if you are making an enquiry to the Council. Knowing the type, amount and scale of development you are proposing is also essential. 
3. Make sure you know what advice the Council offers and how much they charge. Some charge high fees and some charge none. Some only accept written enquiries and some have drop-in advice sessions. Some don’t allow direct phone calls to planning officers and some do. Their website should be clear as to what they offer and at what cost and if it isn’t then you should phone and find out. 
If after reading this you’d like further advice on a specific project or proposal then please get in touch. Use the contact details on the website. 

Serviced Accommodation, Short Term Lets and the Subtleties of Planning 

There is no doubt that recent years have seen a huge rise in short term lets of residential property.  
Fuelled by the success of Air BnB, this has now sparked a considerable debate in the media. 
Concerns about the loss of traditional housing, impacts of noisy, rowdy stag/hen parties and even pop-up brothels have all made the news. 
Is planning permission required for serviced accommodation? 
If ever there was a question with a straight answer, this unfortunately is not one of them! It's a grey area of planning.  
The approach to this question has been framed by case law over the years. 
This has looked at the definition of dwellings, hotels and material change of use. 
What does the Government say? 
Government advice on short term lets is set out in the Planning Practice Guidance document and is as follows: 
"Is planning permission required to short-term let in elsewhere England? 
Planning permission is not required elsewhere in England to short-term let a dwelling house, so long as there is not a material change of use of the property. Where it is a change of use and planning permission has not been obtained, a local planning authority can consider whether to take enforcement action." 
Whilst this is helpful in some respects, the question of whether a property has undergone a “material change of use” is open to interpretation. 
How is Material Change of Use defined? 
Guidance for what a material change of use is has been provided by case law, some of it relating to holiday lets which are very similar. 
One of the most important cases, was that of Sheila Moore, a holiday let operator who was letting out a nine bedroom property to large groups. T he local Council had taken enforcement action considering that there had been a change of use. Mrs Moore appealed and the case eventually ended up in the Court of Appeal. 
The judge established that whether the use of a dwelling house for commercial short term letting amounts to a material change of use will be a question of “fact and degree in each case”. 
Factors that might determine whether a material change of use has taken place depends on the character of the use, and might include: 
traffic and parking 
number of guests 
patterns of arrival and departure 
frequency of party type activities 
noise and disturbance to neighbours 
What is the difference between a C1 Hotel and a C1 dwelling use? 
A common perception is that serviced accommodation must fall within the C1 use class which includes hotels. 
However, where a property is let as a whole for short term periods then it may still be classed as a C3 dwelling. 
If rooms in a property are let out individually then this would not be a C3 dwelling as it would be more like a hotel. 
London and the 90 day rule 
In London, there is an added layer of complexity to the planning rules on serviced accommodation. The short term letting of property in London is permitted, provided that the total number of nights doesn’t exceed 90. 
If you let your property for more than 90 nights then you must apply for planning permission. 
Planning rules for serviced accommodation are unfortunately not straightforward. This leads to some confusion amongst planners and you may find that different Councils and different individuals have different views for this reason. 
It is important to note however that not all serviced accommodation is a change of use and if your Local Planning Authority says you need permission then they may not always be correct. Using the guidance in this blog should help inform your own judgement and seeking advice from a planning consultant may also be a good idea. 
If after reading this you’d like further advice on a specific project or proposal, then please get in touch using the contact form on the website. And, if you’re feeling social, find me on at Twitter at: 

Planning Appeals: How long do they take? 

If you are thinking about appealing a planning decisions, how long it might take may be a key factor. 
The Planning Inspectorate have recently updated their average timescales for carrying out planning appeals. Although improvements are being made the time taken is still lengthy. 
For a householder appeal (i.e. an extension to a single house) you can expect to wait an average of 15 weeks to get a decision. 
Many small scale property developments will fall under the Written Representations category which are taking on average 25 weeks. 
Timeframes for appeals involving hearings, inquiries or relating to enforcement are much longer. 
For full details of current average timescales see the latest published figures here: 

6 things you should know about HMOs and Planning 

1. What's the definition of an HMO? 
The government definition of an HMO is as follows: 
"A house in multiple occupation is a property rented out by at least 3 people who are not from 1 ‘household’ (eg a family) but share facilities like the bathroom and kitchen. It’s sometimes called a ‘house share’." 
In most cases the same definition applies for licensing and planning. 
Self-contained units where basic amenities are only available to occupants of that unit would not be an HMO. Separate planning permission would be needed. 
2. Do I need planning permission for an HMO? 
Not always. Changing the use of a property from a single dwelling (C3 use) to a small HMO (up to 6 people) (C4 use) is permitted development. This means that it doesn't generally need permission. However, if there is an Article 4 Direction in place, this means you will have to apply for permission. 
Also, in Wales you will always need to apply for permission to go from C3 to C4. 
In the case of HMOs with more than 6 people resident then planning permission is always required. These larger HMOs are often referred to, in planning terms, as "sui generis" HMOs. 
3. What's an Article 4 direction and how do I find out if there is one which could affect my HMO project? 
Councils can introduce Article 4 Directions which remove the right to change from C3 to C4 without permission. They can affect part or all of a Council's area and there are a number across the country. 
If an Article 4 direction is in place then you will need to apply for planning for an HMO. 
You can find out about Article 4 directions by calling the Council or searching on line. Article 4 directions can be used for other types of development so always ask about HMO Article 4s. 
Article 4 Directions can be introduced "with immediate effect" and "without immediate effect". The former is more dramatic and can be of much concern for landlords it comes into force with no notice. The latter is a more common approach for Council and includes a consultation period before coming into force. 
If you have an existing HMO or are planning one in an Article 4 area you should seek further advice from a planning consultant. 
4. What's the difference between planning control and HMO licencing? 
HMO Licensing is a separate set of legislation to planning. There are no direct crossovers. It is possible for the Council to grant an HMO licence with planning permission being in place and vice versa. 
Planning and licensing are separate departments within Councils. The extent to which they talk to each varies and so you need to make sure both are on board with your project. 
The internal layout of an HMO is generally a matter for licensing rather than planning. This is not always the case though so you need to check if there are planning standards as well. 
5. What are planners concerned about with HMOs? 
The following topics crop up most frequently with HMO applications 
Is there enough parking? 
Is there an over concentration of HMOs in the area? 
Will there be noise and disturbance to neighbours? 
Standard of the living accommodation 
Councils will have different policies and guidance on these topics and planning consultants can help advise on these. 
6. What happens if I want to extend an HMO? 
A single dwelling can be extended and altered within certain limits without the need to apply for permission. This is known as permitted development (PD) rights. 
A question often arises whether these PD rights extend to HMOs as well. The answer is yes! Both C4 and larger sui generis HMOs have the same permitted development rights as a single dwelling. 
Hopefully this gives you an insight into the planning for HMOs. Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs). 
If after reading this you’d like further advice on a specific project or proposal, then please get in touch using the contact form on the website. And, if you’re feeling social, find me on at Twitter at:
Feel free to check back here regularly for more town planning news and insights! 
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