Article 4 Direction: From Class O to Class MA

Decoration Decoration

Opportunities to change the use of buildings in Central London from commercial to residential during Article 4 Direction transition period

Policy & Legislation
Author Geoff Megarity
Principal Planner
Decoration Decoration

The Government previously announced that from August 2021, Class O of the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO) would be replaced with Class MA in line with the new Use Classes Order. Local planning authorities (LPAs) that have an existing Article 4 Direction which restricts the change of use from office space to residential space remain valid until 31st July 2022.

With the July deadline approaching, many LPAs have sought to introduce new Article 4 Directions to stop the new commercial to residential permitted development rights under class MA taking hold within their areas.

Replacing Article 4 Directions in London

In recent months we have seen that a number of London LPAs have applied for new Article 4 Directions to restrict the new Class MA change of use which encompasses a wide range of commercial uses falling under Use Class E to residential Use Class C3 – much more than its predecessor, Class O.

However, a number of LPAs have recently seen their proposed Directions rejected by The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities because they have not been applying them in line with government intention, which is to limit them to precise small geographical areas.

Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea: Article 4 Direction Rejection

An example of this is seen in a published letter from Housing Minister, Stuart Andrew to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) regarding the rejection of their proposed borough-wide Article 4 Direction. He stated that the proposed Article 4 Directions “cumulatively would disapply the permitted development right from most of the Central Activities Zone (CAZ)”. The CAZ is an area set out in the London Plan, described by the Mayor as “London’s vibrant centre and one of the world’s most attractive and competitive business locations”.

The Housing Minister said that Article 4 Directions should “apply to the smallest geographic area possible” and having reviewed the evidence was “not persuaded that a case has been made for a blanket coverage”.

Article 4 Direction Areas

The Housing Minister’s advice is that LPAs should only propose Article 4 Directions “where there is clear evidence that the permitted development would have wholly unacceptable adverse impacts”. He suggested that LPAs should “reconsider” their proposed Article 4 Directions, demonstrating that they had been considered for “individual streets or smaller areas”.

The Minister also confirmed that he had raised similar concerns with Camden, Lambeth, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Wandsworth and Westminster.

Class MA Opportunity in Central London

Consequently, Central London LPAs are under pressure to prepare much more detailed justification for Article 4 Directions which means there are development opportunities through Class MA for landowners in the city centre which may not have been there before.

Prior Approval Conditions for Class MA

There are a number of key conditions under Class MA when it comes to the requirements for development. For example, the building must:

  • have been vacant for three months prior to the application;
  • have been in commercial use for at least two years;
  • propose no more than 1,500sqm of floorspace change.

Applicants must apply to see if prior approval is required from the LPA. The proposals will need to prove they:

  • Do not have harmful impacts on transport;
  • Do not have contamination risks;
  • Do not have flooding risks;
  • Do not impact the intended occupiers of the development with noise from commercial premises;
  • Do not cause harm to conservation areas;
  • Provide adequate natural light;
  • Do not harmfully impact the end-users by general or heavy industrial uses;
  • Do not result in the loss of a registered nursery or health centre.

Many landowners will have properties which comply with the above requirements and can therefore utilise this new development opportunity. Properties where a full planning application would have been required previously now have the opportunity to secure the change of use via a prior approval application, subject to conditions. It is expected that this opportunity will only be temporary as LPAs rush to secure compliant Article 4 Directions with the Secretary of State.

We can assess the development potential of your site and advise the best route to obtain approval for your proposals. If you would like to discuss Article 4 Directions and Class MA further, please get in touch.

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