Clarke Willmott: Construction implications of proposed planning relaxation

The Government has recently announced proposals to change the permitted development rights for Class E, meaning commercial, service and business units could be changed more easily into residential properties.

Hayley Steel, construction lawyer at Clarke Willmott

The proposal has the potential to have a significant effect on housing delivery and the shape of towns and city centres but it also has huge construction and infrastructure implications.

Hayley Steel, construction lawyer with national law firm Clarke Willmott LLP, says the changes would be of huge benefit to many commercial investors and developers, but thought must be given to the logistics of making the buildings safe for residents.

“Commercial office space is becoming more and more redundant as remote working takes over. High Street shops are also declining with the rise in popularity of online shopping,” said Steel. “Add to this the very high levels of demand for housing and you can see why the government has made the decision to potentially relax the rules.

“While it makes sense, particularly in a climate where we are slowly coming out of a pandemic, the fit-out and infrastructure works required to convert commercial premises to residential would be significant. Careful consideration would need to be taken in the building contract to carefully document the full extent of the works and there will need to be a focus on building safety and fire risk.

“Ultimately, the conversions will be occupied by residential tenants or owners; therefore, infrastructure safety standards need to be high and professional legal advice should be taken by contractors.”

The proposed permitted development right for Class E goes beyond existing rights which allow offices and retail to switch to residential use, and would now allow for restaurants, indoor sports facilities and nurseries to benefit for the first time.

The proposals are currently under consultation before they can be adopted.