Appeal decision on Permitted Development Rights

29th July 2014

In May 2013 the Government brought in new Permitted Development Rights allowing changes of use from offices (B1a) to residential (C3) without the need for planning permission.

However, before such a change could take place, a prior notification application was required to be made to the local planning authority by which they could object to the change due to impacts caused by transport, highways, contamination or flooding.

We have recently received the Inspector’s decision on an appeal we were involved in at the former Oxford Bus Depot, Cowley Road, Oxford.  The City Council issued a prior notification decision stating that they objected on highways and transport grounds to the proposed change to residential in view of inadequate on-site parking.  Interestingly, there was also a condition on the planning permission for the office development requiring the occupation of the offices by only low cost start up businesses and to remain in such use thereafter.  We took the view, and the Inspector agreed, that such a restriction was not explicit enough to exclude all Permitted Development Rights applying to the building.  He also took the view that the transport and highways issues had been satisfactorily dealt with by the appellant and therefore there was no grounds to uphold the Council’s objection.

The City Council’s application for costs, on the grounds that the appellant had no reasonable chance of success, was unsurprisingly in the circumstances rejected.  The City Council also sought to argue that the offices were not in occupation on the relevant date (30 May 2013) but evidence produced on behalf of the appellant satisfied the inspector on this point.

Some readers may have seen the article in Planning Magazine (18 July 2014) which reveals that there have been 42 appeals lodged against office to residential refusals (including the former Oxford Bus Depot).  Considerable concern has been raised on behalf of developers that local planning authorities are treating applications for prior notification as effectively applications for planning permission.  There appears to be an in principle objection to the use of the Permitted Development Rights since planning authorities cannot seek the usual Section 106 obligations for affordable housing or financial contributions in such cases.  There is no doubt that some local planning authorities are strongly opposing applications for this reason.

Finally, it is worth remembering that the Permitted Development Rights are only for a limited period; the use of the residential units must begin before May 2016.

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