Offices (Class E) to residential (Class C3)

If you are looking to convert an office or an office block to residential (C3) use – that’s use as one or more flats or normal houses – this page provides some helpful planning advice. 

In 2020, offices moved use class. Prior to this change, offices belonged to use class B1 which also covered premises in light industrial (e.g. car repair shops) and research and development (e.g. laboratories) use. Offices now belong to the much larger use class E which covers most “commercial” uses, including:

  • Retail shops
  • Offices
  • Banks, estate agents
  • Hairdressing salons (not beauty salons)
  • Medical and health services/clinics
  • Childcare services (e.g. creches)
  • Cafes and restaurants (not pubs)
  • Light industrial (e.g. car repair shops, laboratories)
  • Gyms and indoor sports venues.

As a result of the above change, any “change of use” within use class E (e.g. from a retail shop to an office or from an office to a cafe) no longer requires planning permission. 

However, if you are looking to covert an office (E) to any other use class (including residential, C3), you will normally require formal planning permission. There are some notable exceptions to this which are discussed below. 

Do I need planning permission to convert my office (E) to a house or flat (C3)?

In the simplest of terms, you do not always need planning permission to convert an office to a house or flat. However, you will always need to submit some form of planning application to your Local Planning Authority (this is normally your local council) – this will either be a “full planning” application or a “prior approval” application. 

In all circumstances, you may only proceed with the change of use if the Local Planning Authority (LPA) approves your planning application*.

*Or, in the case of a prior approval application, responds that “prior approval is not required” OR fails to issue a decision within 56 days of your valid application. 

The reason that planning permission is not always required for a change of use from office (E) to residential (C3) is because it is sometimes covered by permitted development rights. 

Change of use permitted development rights provide specific, detailed exceptions to the general planning rule that all movement from one use class to another (e.g. from use class E to use class C3) requires formal planning permission. 

If you’d like to know more about permitted development rights (including where to find them and what sites they apply to), you can find some useful information here. More detailed information concerning change of use permitted development rights can be found here

In respect of the change of use of offices (class E) to residential (C3), the following change of use permitted development rights apply:

Permitted change of useAny conditions or limitations?Subject to prior approval?
Class G – from any commercial (use class E) use to a mixed use as commercial (use class E) and as up to 2 flats (use class C3)4 conditions Yes
Class MA – from any commercial (use class E) use to use as one or more dwellinghouses (use class C3)8 limitations
5 conditions
Yes

By far the most common of these is Class MA for the total conversion of the office or offices to residential use. Its key conditions and limitations are shown in the table below.

Class MA

Conditions
Development is only permitted subject to the following conditions…
Limitations
Development is NOT permitted…
A prior approval application must be submitted to the Local Planning Authority concerning:
Transport impacts, especially site access
Contamination risks
Flood risks
Impact of noise from commercial premises on site residents
Impact on Conservation Area (where relevant)
Adequate natural light to habitable rooms
Impact of industrial activities etc. on site residents
Fire safety impacts (where relevant)
If any of the following designations apply to the site:
Site of special scientific interest
Listed building (or curtilage)
Scheduled monument (or curtilage)
Safety hazard area
Military explosives storage area
Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)
The Broads
National Park
Word Heritage Site
The prior approval application must be accompanied by:
Written description of development
Site plan
Net increase in residential units
Floorplans showing dimensions/use of each room, size and position of windows, doors, walls, elevations etc.
Developer’s contact details
Application fee
Unless the building has been in class E commercial use for at least the past 2 years
Development must not begin until:
The Local Planning Authority confirms in writing that prior approval is not required OR
The Local Planning Authority confirms in writing that prior approval is granted OR
The Local Planning Authority fails to make a decision within 56 days of a valid application
Unless the building has been vacant for at least 3 months
Development must be completed within 3 years of the prior approval dateIf the floorspace exceeds 1500 sqm
Development must be carried out in accordance with the drawings and details submitted with the prior approval applicationIf the site is occupied under an agricultural tenancy and the express consent of both landlord and tenant has not been obtained
The building must remain in residential use and be used for no other unrelated purpose

If your change of use would comply with all of the conditions and limitations of Class MA (or Class G), then you do not need planning consent and there is no need to submit a full planning application. However, you must still make a prior approval application to your LPA and there is a chance this will be refused. You can find out more about the prior approval process (including how it differs to a normal planning application) here.

If your site doesn’t have permitted development rights or your change of use doesn’t comply with all of the conditions and limitations of Class MA (or Class G), you will need to submit a full planning application. 

Like a prior approval application, a full planning application should be submitted to your Local Planning Authority (this is normally your local council). Your Local Planning Authority (LPA) will then assess your planning application and either approve or refuse it. 

In assessing your planning application, the LPA will take account of their local planning policies and any other “material planning considerations” – find out more about these here

Although the content of local planning policies will vary, there are certain key planning issues that almost always apply when considering the change of use of an office (E) to one or more houses or flats (C3) anywhere in England. These are discussed below. 

What are the key planning issues? 

Local planning policies will vary and it is important that your planning application is designed to meet the policies in force in your local area. There are, however, a number of key planning issues that will almost always apply to the proposed change of an office (E) to residential use (C3), no matter where the site is located. 

These are:

Standard of accommodation

The LPA will need to be satisfied that the property would provide an acceptable standard of accommodation to its residents. This can pose some challenges when converting offices to residential use. For example, it will normally be required that:

  • All habitable rooms (that includes bedrooms and living rooms) have adequate natural light; and
  • All residential units have access to outdoor space (local requirements will vary, however most houses should have private outdoor space whilst flats may share outdoor space). 

The LPA will likely have local design policies concerning (for example) the form, layout, size etc. of new residential units. These apply to residential properties converted from other uses as much as to new builds.

Effect on character and appearance

“Character and appearance” is the way a place looks, functions and “feels”. 

This includes its buildings (size, height, architecture etc.), its layout (e.g. are buildings close together or far apart?), its uses and activities (e.g. is it a busy town centre or a quiet residential street?).

When it comes to a change of use of an office (E) to a residential property (C3), the LPA will mainly be concerned with the:

  • Effects of physical development, mainly external changes (such as new windows and doors). Is it designed and constructed to a high quality? Is it “in keeping” with the building and surrounding area’s established character and appearance? For example, do any new windows follow the style, position and materials of the building’s existing windows? If the building has a distinctive and pleasant commercial character, the LPA is likely to resist its change of use if this character would be lost. 
  • Effects of the building’s residential use. For example, is the site part of a commercial estate where no residential uses currently exist or would be expected to exist? The LPA will also consider whether the retention of an office or other commercial use (E) on the site is necessary to preserve local character. For example, the LPA may resist the change of use if there is a compelling need to retain commercial sites in the area for economic or social reasons. 

Effect on parking and highways 

The LPA will consider whether there is enough parking available for the residents of the site. This could be dedicated/private parking or shared/public car parking, as long as there are enough spaces to meet the parking needs of the new residents in addition to the needs of any existing businesses and/or houses in the area. 

Some LPAs have detailed parking standards that tell you the minimum number of parking spaces different sites/buildings (such as offices and residential units) should have available. 

In most cases, LPAs will expect you to comply with their minimum parking standards. However, exceptions are frequently made in the following circumstances:

  • The site is in a town centre or other “highly sustainable” location (e.g. lots of pavements and very good access to public transport); or
  • The existing parking situation would not be made worse (e.g. there is currently a deficit of 5 spaces for an office use of the building and the deficit for a residential use of the building would also be 5 spaces or fewer).

If your change of use would significantly increase the parking requirements of the site (for example, the office has capacity for around 10 employees but you are seeking to convert it to 20 flats), you will need to consider parking very carefully, from the earliest design stages. 

In terms of effects on highways (roads), the LPA will need to be satisfied that the change of use of the building will not cause harm to their safety or proper functioning. This includes consideration of the following matters:

  • Will there be a significant increase in traffic?
  • Will there be a significant increase in on-road parking (and can the road sustain that)?
  • Will there be an increased risk of conflict between drivers and pedestrians?

Sustainability

The general principle when it comes to the creation of new homes (C3) is that they should be located in “sustainable” locations. These are broadly understood to be sub/urban locations where services and facilities (such as shops, schools and workplaces) can be accessed from the home using sustainable transport modes. Sustainable transport modes include walking, cycling and public transport. 

Sometimes, LPAs assess all “new” homes in the same way, no matter whether they are new builds or conversions of existing buildings such as offices. 

If the office is located in an area where new housing is generally resisted – normally “open countryside” locations without access to services/facilities using sustainable transport modes – the LPA may object to its residential conversion on this basis. 

Broadly speaking, if the office is sited in an unsustainable location this will not be problematic provided:

  • Its residential use would not give rise to more unsustainable vehicle movements (private car and taxis) than its office use. For example, if the office has capacity for 30 employees and you are seeking to convert it into 2 5-bed houses only, it is clear that the likely number of unsustainable vehicle movements to and from the site would reduce overall. 

Effect on heritage assets 

If the building is listed (including locally listed), in or adjacent to a Conservation Area OR close to a listed building (including locally listed), the LPA is obliged to consider the effect of the change of use on the affected assets’ heritage value/s. Permission for the change of use will normally only be provided if the effect on heritage assets is beneficial or neutral. 

In these circumstances, your planning application should include a proportionate assessment of the affected heritage assets’ significance, including an assessment of the likely impact of the proposed change of use.

What do I need to submit with my change of use planning application?

Your planning application for a change of use of an office (E) to one or more residential units (C3) should normally include:

  1. Application form;
  2. Planning, design & access statement/s; and
  3. Suite of relevant planning drawings:
  • Site location plan
  • Block plan
  • Existing and proposed floorplans
  • Existing and proposed elevations.

Other requirements will vary depending on the LPA and its local policies, the site/location and the physical changes required (if any). For example:

  • If the building is in flood zones 2 or 3, a Flood Risk Assessment will be required;
  • If the change of use requires alterations to the roof, existing and proposed roofplans will be required;
  • If the change of use would significantly increase vehicle movements to and from the site, the LPA may request a Transport Statement. 

What do I need to submit with my prior approval application?

This depends on whether your development is covered by Class G or Class MA permitted development rights. 

The basic submission requirements for a Class MA prior approval application can be found in the Class MA conditions and limitations table that appears above. However, you should be aware that submission requirements will vary greatly depending on the site and its location. 

For example, the LPA must always consider “flood risks”. If your site is in flood zone 1 (lowest risk of flooding), you can normally just submit a copy of the government’s flood map for planning to demonstrate that the site is in flood zone 1. This map can be rapidly sourced, free of charge, from the government’s website. However, if your site is in flood zone 2 or 3, you will need to provide a comprehensive Flood Risk Assessment – at cost – to prove that the “flood risks” of the change of use are acceptable. If you fail to provide a Flood Risk Assessment in these circumstances, it is highly likely that the LPA will refuse to grant prior approval. 

How can Planning Direct assist with my change of use application?

Planning Direct can assist you with all aspects of your change of use OR prior approval planning application, from start to finish. Our “comprehensive package” includes the following services:

  • design guidance
  • planning drawings
  • planning, design & access statement; and 
  • case management*. 

*this means we will submit the planning application on your behalf and then act as your agent throughout the process, liaising with the LPA until a decision is reached. 

You can find more information about these services here.

If you don’t require a comprehensive package (for example, because you are providing your own drawings), we can provide a bespoke selection of the above services at a reduced cost.

In the event that any supplementary reports are required (such as a Heritage Impact Assessment, Flood Risk Assessment etc.), we can either produce these in-house or commission them from an external provider on your behalf. We will always agree this with you beforehand. 

In the case of a full planning application, Planning Direct will ensure that your planning, design & access statement is carefully crafted to address all relevant local planning policies and all relevant planning issues (such as those described above). 

In the case of a prior approval application, Planning Direct will ensure that your written statement comprehensively explores and explains how each applicable condition and limitation of the relevant permitted development right (be it Class G or Class MA) is met. 

How much will it cost?

There are two main expenses that you need to take into account:

  1. Preparation and submission of the planning application (including drawings, written statement, case management etc.); and
  2. Application fee payable to the LPA.

Currently, the application fee for a change of use of an office (E) to a single house or flat (C3) in England is £462. If you are looking to convert the office to multiple flats or houses, each flat/house will attract a fee of £462*.

If you are submitting a prior approval application, the fees are as follows:

  • £96 for Class G; and
  • £100 per residential unit for Class MA*. 

*please be aware that although we make every effort to keep our website up-to-date, application fees do change occasionally and you should always check the fees in place at the time of making your application. 

At Planning Direct, fees for a comprehensive change of use planning application start from £1195.

Please be aware that in certain circumstances the LPA may request supplementary reports (such as a Heritage Impact Assessment, Flood Risk Assessment etc.) which will attract additional fees. 

Broadly speaking, the fewer physical alterations you need to make to the building in order to change its use to residential, the less the cost of the planning application overall. 

Although you are entitled to prepare and submit your own planning application, employing a good planning consultant can save you money in the long run. This is partly because there are various technical requirements that your application must meet in order to even be considered by the LPA. For example, planning drawings must be drawn to particular scales and show specific site/locational features. If it takes you multiple attempts to get this right, you could spend more money overall. 

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