What are my planning options for a vacant commercial property?

vacantbuildingsThe English planning system is all about making efficient use of land.  Councils therefore, will usually encourage the effective use of vacant buildings.

Such decisions are dependent on a number of factors and in order to identify the next potential steps for putting a vacant building back into good use, it is useful to establish:

  • How long has the property been vacant?
  • Have you marketed the property?
  • Is the property listed or in a conservation area?
  • Are you aware if the property is in an Article 4 area?
  • Have there been any previous planning refusals on the site?  

Once these points have been established, possible options for a vacant commercial property could include:

1) Explore permitted development rights

Permitted development rights can enable you to carry out certain types of work without needing to apply for planning permission. Depending on the specifics of your site, these can be used to allow many changes of use, plus some small extensions in certain cases.

As an example, an office which is Use Class B1 (Business) has permitted development rights to change to Use Class B8 (storage or distribution) or to become a dwelling house in Use Class C3 (Dwellinghouse), as well as other temporary uses, without the need for a planning application. However, it is important to note that such changes can be subject to the prior approval process, which is akin to a lite-planning application.

Further information on the prior approval process can be found here.

2) Full planning application for change of use

If you find that permitted development rights are too restrictive, you could apply for change of use through a full planning application. This brings further flexibility for future use than may be allowed through permitted development rights. Many councils now encourage flexible uses rather than forcing you to remain as a single use class and could have the benefit of increasing your pool of potential tenants.

3) Full planning application for redevelopment

Applying for a full planning application for redevelopment brings additional options for your vacant commercial property. There is further scope to demolish and rebuild, with a push for greater density or flexibility of use if felt to be appropriate. This also brings the potential for possible wider land assembly options for eventual development or redevelopment.  

4) Vertical extensions

Between February and April 2016 the government held a consultation on creating new permitted development rights to allow for “vertical extensions” in London. It is important to note that the results of the “vertical extensions” consultation have not yet been released, and no timetable for adoption is set.

However, the consultation proposes to enable additional storeys to be built on an existing building, up to the height of an adjoining roofline. The government suggest that this new right could provide for up to two additional storeys to be added to an existing building, where the roofline of the adjoining premises is a minimum of two storeys taller. It could also apply where the development would be above a range of uses such as residential, including both flats and houses, retail, other high street uses, and offices. However, some oversight is likely to be included via a prior approval mechanism.

The government suggest that only where neighbours raise objections, after having been given a chance to comment on matters such as light, privacy and overlooking, would the local planning authority have to consider the impact of the proposed development on amenity. This could therefore make public consultation and neighbour relations very important.  

How can Plainview Planning help?

Depending on the particulars of your site, there are a number of different routes to pursue to make the most of a vacant building.  The team at Plainview have wide-ranging experience in change of use and planning applications. We can help you to assess the development options for your site and guide you through your potential next steps.  The types of services we offer, which you may find of benefit, include:

  • The production of a feasibility study to understand the potential risks and opportunities of your site;
  • the preparation of robust and compelling planning arguments;
  • project management of the scheme to ensure you build the best team and get value;
  • we can lead negotiations with council and statutory consultees;
  • effectively handle community consultations to encourage support and minimise opposition;
  • minimise the chances of refusal and aim for a flexible planning permission with minimal restrictive planning conditions.

For more information or to discuss your project with one of our team then don’t hesitate to contact us via