Planning permission Q&A:can I buy an office - to convert into a home later?

I've seen a office above a shop that has heaps of potential. If I buy it at auction, can I apply for planning permission afterwards?

Question: I have just seen a small office above a shop for sale at auction. Should I go for it and then apply to turn it into a home later? Will that work?

Answer: Offices provide jobs and support the local economy so councils will often refuse planning applications involving their loss. 

The Government intends to continue to allow the conversion of offices to residential under permitted development rights (referred to as a Notification for Prior Approval), so I would recommend this route since your council would only be able to assess the impacts on transport and highways, contamination risk, and flooding risk. Any loss of employment space cannot be taken into consideration.

Remember, though, that permitted development rights only apply to the change of use. If you wanted to make any other improvements, such as cladding to the external walls, you would also need to apply for planning permission. 

The intention of the permitted development legislation is to help meet housing demand through the easy conversion of underused and outdated office stock. But before you raise your auction paddle you’ll need to assess the likelihood of Prior Approval being granted. Some offices located on obvious business land, such as those found within central London and Canary Wharf, are banned from changes of use, as are other areas of national economic importance. If the office is listed, then the change of use is not permitted development, either. 

One of the most common reasons for Prior Approval applications being refused is the failure to provide evidence that the building was in office use prior to May 30, 2013. Review the planning history for the site to ensure that there are no planning conditions limiting or withdrawing permitted development rights. 

The assessment of transport and highways impacts, contamination risk and flooding risk is a less standardised process, as this would depend on the location of the office. Things to consider would include traffic conditions within the surrounding area, proximity to good public transportation networks, the presence of contaminants that pose a risk to human health such as asbestos in ceiling voids, and the proximity to sources of flooding and any existing or planned flood defences. 

In the case where land is identified within a flood zone, it may be reasonable to assume the location could provide a safe refuge in the event of a flood. However, the precise extent of the risk should be reviewed in as much detail as possible.

Your council will assess each of the three considerations against its own policies and guidance, so use this information to provide supporting evidence in the form of transport, contamination and flood risk assessments.

  • Email your questions to: selwyn@blackboxconsultancy.co.uk

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