Planning advice:can we convert an empty shop into our first home?

Watch out for shops for sale with storage space - you could buy the property, convert the upper floors into a home and sell off the shop premises below...

Question: We are a young couple and have just seen a shop with lots of storage space advertised for only £85,000 in Leyton, east London. Would we need planning permission to convert the shop to a flat? Is there anything else we need to consider?

Answer: The conversion of a shop to residential use is allowed without the need for planning permission under Class G and Class M of general permitted development. Depending on the specification you should budget for about £100 per square foot for the conversion costs.

Where legislation requires you to retain part of the building as a shop, after conversion this would be considered as a separate “planning unit” and therefore could be sold off separately. Or you could club together with a potential business owner, purchase the shop jointly and do the conversion. Firstly, I would consider Class M, which lets you convert the entire building to residential use. This route is not suitable if the property is listed; is within a conservation area; was not in use as a shop prior to March 20 2013; would result in the conversion of more than 150sq m; or is subject to directions removing permitted development rights. 

A Notification for Prior Approval would be required and is in effect a “light touch” planning application. Your council would only be able to consider the impact of the conversion on transport and highways, contamination and flooding risk, external appearance of the building and impact on shopping facilities. The latter consideration will get the most attention since your council’s main concern will be potential harm to the sustainability of key shopping areas such as a high street, or, in the case of a more isolated shop, whether the loss would impact on the provision of services to nearby residents. 

The question here is not whether the loss of the much loved family-run butchers would be deeply missed, but rather whether the loss of the retail unit would have an undesirable effect on the adequate provision of shopping facilities within an area. 

You will likely have to demonstrate that the loss of the unit would not impact on the provision of shopping facilities by identifying nearby alternatives and/or proving the shop would no longer be commercially viable — showing, for example, that there is a lack of demand.  

Under Class G you can convert the upper levels to residential use but the ground floor must remain a shop. This route is not subject to any of the previously mentioned restrictions, including those concerning listed buildings or conservation areas. Listed building consent would be required for internal alterations but as long as your plans are sensitive to the historic fabric and character of the building, I would not expect there to be any issues. 

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