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Batcheller Monkhouse were instructed to provide advice on planning strategy to secure the residential conversion of a disused office and light industrial unit in the centre of Caterham. A previous planning application for the conversion of the building to provide 3 units was rejected by Tandridge District Council on the basis of design, amenity, locally prescribed parking standards and crucially, an inability to demonstrate an ongoing commercial unviability of the property to justify the loss of this type of premises in the Town Centre.
In order to overcome the previous concerns, we recommended an alternative strategy utilising the newly introduced Permitted Development Right extended under Class MA of Schedule 2, Part 3 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order (England) 2015 (As Amended) – the GPDO – which came into force in August 2021. This allows for the change of use of a commercial premises in Use Class E (offices, shops, gyms, café, restaurants etc) to residential use to be carried out as permitted development.
Pursuing this route meant that Batcheller Monkhouse could put forward a scheme for the same number of units but importantly circumvent the LDP policies that had presented such an obstacle to the previous planning application – particularly in terms of establishing the viability of the property as an ongoing commercial premises. The legislation only requires the building be vacant for 3 months, which substantially reduced the development timeline for the property and negated the 12-month marketing exercise required by the LPA.
Prior Approval for the scheme was given in April 2022. The scheme will see the delivery of two 1-bed units in the previous office space and a 2-bedroom modern industrial warehouse style apartment in the former workshop. This will provide much needed housing in a highly sustainable location in the centre of Caterham and will bring a disused property back into active use adding to the vitality of the town. This aligns directly with what Class MA was introduced to achieve.
Another benefit of Class MA is that it can establish a firm in principle position with which to explore more detailed or complex proposals from. Acting in much the same way as Class Q (which allows for residential conversion of agricultural buildings), a Class MA approval offers a robust fall-back position which establishes the principle of residential conversion as being acceptable – an example of which can be read about here.
A point to note however, whilst the new Class MA opens significant opportunities to owners of disused hard to sell/ lease commercial properties, unlike Class Q the legislation does not allow for any external changes to the building. Therefore, the building must be capable of conversion from the outset and any required external changes would need full planning permission.
Nicholas Webb, Graduate Planner
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