New rules allowing commercial premises to be converted into homes come into force today, as part of a package of measures to revitalise England’s cherished high streets and town centres (31 March 2021).
The new rules, announced by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, will help support the creation of much-needed homes while also giving high streets a new lease of life – removing eyesores, transforming unused buildings and making the most of brownfield land.
Today’s package also introduces a new fast track for extending public service buildings. New rules allow for bigger extensions to existing public buildings including schools, colleges, universities and hospitals.
This will help deliver more classrooms and hospital space by enabling them to extend further and faster, as we emerge from the pandemic.
Allowing unused commercial buildings to be changed into homes will encourage more people to live near local high streets and come to the area for work and leisure, helping cement our high streets and town centres in their rightful place at the heart of communities.
The new homes will be delivered through a simpler ‘prior approval’ process instead of a full planning application and will be subject to high standards, ensuring they provide adequate natural light and meet space standards.
Currently, public buildings can have small extensions without the need for a full planning application. Today’s changes mean they would be able to extend further and faster, helping to quickly deliver more classrooms and hospital space.
This will mean that vital public buildings will be expanded more quickly through the planning system with a faster, more streamlined planning process.
Communities Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP said:
“We are creating the most small business friendly planning system in the world to provide the flexibility needed for high streets to bounce back from the pandemic.”
“By diversifying our town and city centres and encouraging the conversion of unused shops into cafes, restaurants or even new homes, we can help the high street to adapt and thrive for the future.”
“The public also want improvements to public services as quickly as possible and so these changes will also help schools and hospitals to adapt quickly to changing needs with a new fast track for extending public service buildings.”
“This will help deliver more classrooms and hospital space by helping them extend further and faster.”
This announcement supports a series of recent measures introduced to help high streets recover once lockdown restrictions are lifted which include:
- £56 million Welcome Back Fund to help boost the look and feel of high streets and seaside towns
- Relaxation of planning rules to allow pubs and restaurants to operate as takeaways.
- Planning freedoms to allow outdoor markets, marquees, pop-up summer fairs without the need of a planning application.
- Longer opening hours for retail to give shoppers more flexibility and ease transport pressures
- Extension of provisions for temporary pavement licences to facilitate alfresco dining
Measures announced today also include:
- Amendment of existing permitted development rights for ports so that they have the same freedoms as airports for undertaking development
- Amendments to the demolition permitted development right to ensure the removal of unlisted heritage assets is subject to due process and proper consultation via planning