20 flats for Harlow town centre, secured via Class MA Prior Approval

Our recent application for Class MA prior approval sought the change of use from Class E (offices) to Class C3 residential, on the 2nd and 3rd floors of a building in Harlow’s town centre.  We are so pleased with the outcome for this proposal which seeks to regenerate a mostly empty building in a prime central location, providing spacious flats and associated amenity space for residents. 

The four storey building in question, which is largely vacant, comprises commercial uses at ground floor level. Given its location, the site benefits from good transport links, and the building itself is bright and airy. The proposed internal reconfigurations will provide 20 spacious, quality flats with the following mix: 6 no. 2-bedroom flats; 12 no. 1- bedroom flats;  2 no. studio flats. Each unit will include a bathroom and an open plan kitchen/living space. 

It is a great site and one we have worked on previously.  However, historic permissions to redevelop the site have not been implemented due to the Covid-19 pandemic and protracted negotiations over a potential sale.  It is great that this latest approval will keep the permissions alive on site and hopefully pave a way for the future of this iconic building.  

Class MA in practice – what you need to know

An interesting mechanism in planning, Class MA of Part 3 of Schedule 2 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015,  provides permission for: “Development consisting of a change of use of a building and any land within its curtilage from a use falling within Class E (commercial, business and service) of Schedule 2 to the Use Classes Order to a use falling within Class C3 (dwellinghouses) of Schedule 1 to that Order.”  Which roughly translates as – you can secure a change of use from Class E to residential subject to certain restrictions and any conversions under this Use Class must be for residential use only – this does not include HMOs. 

Development under Class MA is permitted subject to the condition that before the beginning of development, the developer must apply to the local planning authority (LPA) for a determination as to whether the prior approval of the authority will be required for various matters, including but not limited to: 

  • Transport and highways; 
  • Contamination; 
  • Flooding risks; 
  • Impacts of noise from nearby businesses;
  • Impact on the conservation area, if located within one and development is proposed on the ground floor; 
  • Provision of adequate natural light; 
  • Introducing residential use to industrial areas; 
  • Effect on local services.

With reference to the criteria under Section MA.1., the circumstances where development is not permitted under Class MA can be found in full here. As you might expect, you cannot use Class MA if land covered by or within the curtilage of the building is: 

  • Designated as a SSSI;
  • Article 2(3) Land – such as AONB, a National Park, a World Heritage Site etc.;
  • A Listed Building;
  • A Scheduled Monument; 
  • In a Military Explosives Area (pretty unsurprising really!).

As listed above you can use Class MA in a conservation area, but if you are converting the ground floor then an impact assessment will need to be undertaken. 

Class MA – changes coming into force from 5th March 2024

It is worth noting that change is afoot for Class MA.  From the 5th March 2024 legislation will come into force that will amend Class MA to remove the requirement that a building must have been vacant for a continuous period of at least 3 months immediately prior to the date of an application for prior approval. Additionally, Class MA will be amended to remove the floorspace upper limit for buildings changing use under the right. 

If you are submitting an application prior to the 5th March 2024 then obviously the current status quo remains and the unit must have been vacant for 3 months and floor space is limited to 1,500sqm etc. 

Some within the industry have expressed concern that there will be no assessment of the impact of Class E to Class C3 residential on these larger sites, especially in light of the fact that Class MA does not provide wider placemaking benefits in terms of affordable home provision or wider community amenity considerations. Time will tell what the knock on implications of this will be.    

Other considerations for Class MA

There may be other restrictions that prevent Class MA including Local Authority removal of PD rights, or conditions attached to any historic permissions that prevent the use of Permitted Development Rights. 

If you need to undertake material changes to the exterior of the building you may need to submit an additional planning application, as consideration of associated external alterations are not considered under Class MA. It is important to consider timings and strategy where this is necessary, given that the use of the PD right may be dependent on the external works being approved. 

As with other prior approval applications, there is a time limit.  The LPA must issue a decision within 56 days or consent is deemed. Once granted, you have 3 years within which to implement the permission. 

About us

We are Plainview Planning – a solutions orientated, experienced and knowledgeable team of planning consultants.  If you need professional and informed planning support with your development project, then contact our team via, to see how we can best assist you, providing the site address and a brief overview of your project. We value your privacy and any information which you provide will not be shared outside of our company and will only be used in relation to your enquiry.


The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development etc.) (England) (Amendment) Order 2021

The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) Order 2024