The change of commercial premises to residential use is something we handle frequently here at Planning Direct. If you’re looking to convert your commercial site to one or more houses or flats, this page provides some helpful planning advice.
Want to find out more about other popular changes of use? Follow the links below.
Apply for planning permission or prior approval
In the simplest of terms, you do not always need to apply for planning permission if you’re looking to convert a commercial property (use class E)* to one or more houses or flats (use class C3).
However, you will always need to submit some form of planning application to your Local Planning Authority (this is normally your local council).
Depending on the specifics of your site and change of use, this will either be a change of use application or a prior approval application. Follow the links below for some general information about these application types.
*What is a class E commercial property?
Most types of commercial properties are in use class “E”, including:
- medical centres
- hair salons.
When should I submit a prior approval application?
Permitted development rights
The reason an application for planning permission is not always required for a change of use from commercial (class E) to residential (class C3) is because it is sometimes covered by permitted development rights.
Not sure about permitted development rights? Follow the link below to find out more about them, including what they are, where to find them and what sites have them.
Change of use permitted development rights
Change of use permitted development rights provide specific changes of use with formal planning permission. If your change of use is covered by a permitted development right, that means you don’t need to seek planning permission for it again.
However, all permitted development rights for the change of use of commercial premises (class E) to residential (class C3) are “subject to prior approval”. That means you still need to submit a special type of planning application – called a prior approval application – to your local council. In most cases, you cannot proceed with the change of use unless your local council responds with a grant of prior approval.
Follow the links below to find out more about change of use permitted development rights and prior approval applications.
What commercial to residential changes of use are covered by permitted development rights?
Permitted development rights only cover certain commercial to residential changes of use. These are:
|Permitted change of use||Any rules or restrictions?||Subject to prior approval?|
|Class G – from any commercial use (class E) to a mixed use as commercial (class E) and up to 2 flats (class C3)||4 conditions||Yes|
|Class MA – from any commercial use (class E) to use as one or more houses or flats (class C3)||8 limitations|
You must comply with all rules and restrictions
In addition, each permitted development right is subject to a list of rules and restrictions. You must ensure your change of use complies with all relevant rules and restrictions. If it doesn’t, it’s not permitted development and you’ll need to apply for planning permission instead.
Rules and restrictions for Class MA
Class MA for the change of use of commercial property (class E) to one or more houses or flats (class C3) is by far the most popular commercial to residential permitted development right. It is subject to 8 different limitations and 5 different conditions.
The limitations generally tell you what sites and properties aren’t allowed to use this permitted development right. For example, you can’t change use under class MA if the commercial property is a listed building or in an AONB. Similarly, you can’t use this right if the property has been in commercial use (class E) for less than 2 years or if its floorspace is greater than 1500 sqm.
If a limitation means you’re not allowed to use this permitted development right, you’ll need to apply for planning permission instead.
If none of the limitations apply to your property, next you should consider whether your change of use would comply with the conditions. The conditions for class MA include:
- you must submit a prior approval application
- your prior approval application must address these matters and more:
- transport impacts
- land contamination risks
- flood risk
- fire safety
- your prior approval application must include these items and more:
- written description of development
- site plan
- net increase in residential units
- detailed floorplans
- application fee.
If your change of use would comply with all relevant conditions and limitations in class MA, you should submit a prior approval application. If your change of use wouldn’t comply with one or more of the conditions and limitations in class MA or your property has had this permitted development right removed, you’ll need to apply for planning permission instead.
What happens after you apply for prior approval?
If you’re satisfied that your change of use from commercial to residential is either class G or class MA permitted development, next you must submit a prior approval application to your local council.
Your local council will then consider your application and either grant or deny prior approval. If prior approval is granted, you can proceed with the change of use. If it is denied, you must not.
In what circumstances is prior approval denied?
Your local council can only deny prior approval if the change of use doesn’t comply with a condition or limitation of the permitted development right.
For example, if you’ve applied for prior approval under class MA but the property is a listed building, your local council must deny prior approval.
Your local council must also carefully consider all of those matters that you had to address in your prior approval application. For example, one of the matters for a class MA prior approval application is flood risk. If your council has good reason to believe your change of use would increase flood risk or residents of your site would be vulnerable to flooding, they are entitled to deny prior approval.
If prior approval is denied, you cannot proceed with the change of use. However, you still have the following options:
- Reapply for prior approval with more information. For example, if prior approval was refused because your council was not convinced it would be fire safe, reapplying with a fire statement may resolve this
- Apply for planning permission for a change of use. A denial of prior approval does not necessarily mean planning permission for the same development would be refused. Find out more about applying for planning permission below.
When should I submit a change of use application?
A change of use application is a type of application for planning permission.
If your site doesn’t have permitted development rights or your change of use from commercial to residential doesn’t comply with all the permitted development rules, you’ll need to apply for planning permission. The way to do that is by submitting a change of use planning application to your Local Planning Authority (this is normally your local council).
Your council will then assess your planning application and either approve or refuse it.
Click the link below to find out more about change of use planning applications, including what they are and what the different use classes include.
If you’re looking for some general information about planning applications – including what you need to submit, what the fees are and how long they take – follow the link below.
How do I improve the chances of my change of use planning application being approved?
When they assess your planning application, your council has to take account of their local planning policies and any other material planning considerations.
Material planning considerations
Material planning considerations are matters in addition to planning policies that your council can and should take into account when they assess planning applications. In fact, there is a rule in planning that allows your council to approve development in conflict with their planning policies if they are satisfied that material planning considerations support this. Material planning considerations include things like road safety, previous planning decisions, privacy and nature conservation. Click the button below to find out more about material planning considerations.
Local planning policies
Although the content of local planning policies will vary, there are certain key planning issues that most – if not all – councils in England and Wales will take into account when they consider an application for the change of use of a commercial property to residential. These are discussed below.
If your change of use is acceptable in relation to these key issues, it’s very likely that it would comply with local planning policies. However, you should always check your local planning policies to make sure.
If you instruct Planning Direct to submit your change of use planning application, we’ll conduct this research on your behalf.
Key planning issues
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.
No matter where your commercial property is located, however, your local council will almost certainly take the following key planning issues into account when considering its change of use to residential:
Standard of accommodation
Your council 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 commercial premises to residential use. For example, it will normally be required that:
- All habitable rooms (that includes bedrooms and living rooms) have adequate natural light
- All residential units have access to outdoor space (most houses should have private outdoor space whilst flats can usually share).
Your council will likely have local design policies concerning (for example) the form, layout and size 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.
- its buildings – for example, what is their size and style?
- its layout – for example, are buildings close together or far apart? And where do cars park?
- its uses – for example, is it mainly residential, commercial or a mix?
- its type and amount of activity – for example, is it a busy town centre or a quiet village street?
When it comes to a change of use from commercial (class E) to residential (class C3), your council will mainly be concerned about:
The effect of physical changes, especially external
Physical changes include things like new doors, windows and parking areas. Your council will ask:
- are physical changes designed and constructed to a high quality?
- are they “in keeping” with the building and surrounding area? 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, your council is more likely to resist its change of use if this character would be lost.
The effect of the site’s residential use
There are some areas where the residential conversion of a commercial property would harm local character and appearance. For example, is the site part of a busy commercial estate where no residential units currently exist or would be expected to exist? Or does the commercial use of the site make a meaningful contribution to the local community or economy? For example, it may be the only shop in the village.
Effect on parking and roads
Your council will consider whether there is enough parking available for the new residents of the site.
This could be private parking or shared/public car parking.
All that matters is that there are enough parking spaces to meet the parking needs of the new residents as well as the needs of existing businesses and residents in the area.
If your change of use would significantly increase the parking requirements of the site – for example, as an office it has capacity for only 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.
Local parking standards
Some councils have detailed parking standards that tell you the minimum number of parking spaces different sites and buildings (such as commercial buildings and houses) should have available. These are often calculated based on the amount of floorspace or bedrooms.
In most cases, your council 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 urban location with lots of public transport, walking and cycling routes
- The existing parking situation would not be made worse. For example, if the existing commercial property has 5 spaces less than the standard and would still have 5 spaces less than the standard if its use was changed to residential.
In terms of the effect on roads, your council will need to be satisfied that the change of use will not cause harm to their safety or the way they function. They will likely consider the following matters:
- Will there be a significant increase in traffic?
- Will there be a significant increase in on-road parking (and is the road suitable for that)?
- Will there be an increased risk of conflict between drivers and pedestrians?
The general principle when it comes to the creation of new homes is that they should be in “sustainable” locations. Sustainable locations are generally 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.
Some local councils assess all new homes in the same way, no matter whether they are new builds or conversions of existing buildings.
If your commercial building is located in an area where new housing is not generally supported, your council may resist its residential conversion. Areas where new housing is not generally supported include more rural parts of the country away from towns and main villages.
However, the residential conversion of a commercial property in an unsustainable location can still be supported provided it doesn’t lead to an increase in car movements. For example, if the building is an office with capacity for 30 employees and you are seeking to convert it to 2 or 3 family homes, it is very likely that car movements would actually reduce. Therefore, it would not make good sense to resist this change of use on sustainability grounds.
Effect on heritage assets
If the change of use has the potential to affect a heritage asset*, your council is legally required to take this into consideration.
*When would my change of use have the potential to affect a heritage asset?
This is likely to be the case if:
- the building is listed (Grade I – II) or locally listed
- the building is close to one or more listed buildings
- the building is in or adjacent to a conservation area.
In these circumstances, permission for your change of use will normally only be granted if its effect on heritage assets is beneficial or neutral.
Your application must include a heritage impact assessment (HIA)
If your change of use has the potential to affect a heritage asset then your planning application must include a heritage impact assessment. A heritage impact assessment explains the significance of the affected heritage asset(s) and describes the likely impact of the change of use on this significance.
Heritage impact assessments should be proportionate to the scale and impact of a development. If your change of use is straightforward, it’s likely you’ll only need a basic heritage impact assessment. Click the button below to find out more.
What do I need to submit with my change of use application?
Your planning application for the change of use of a commercial property (class E) to residential (class C3) should normally include:
- Application form
- Planning statement
- Planning drawings:
- Site location plan
- Block plan
- Existing and proposed floorplans
- Existing and proposed elevations.
Planning Direct can provide all of these documents either as part of our start-to-finish planning service or as one-off products. Click the links below to find out more.
Other requirements will vary depending on the site and its location, the type and amount of physical changes (if any), who your local council is and what their planning policies are. To help you, we’ve listed below some of the most commonly requested documents and explained when these are likely to be needed.
Flood risk assessment
If the building is located in flood zone 2 or 3, a flood risk assessment will be required. Click the link below to find out more about Planning Direct’s entry-level flood risk assessments.
Heritage impact assessment
If the change of use has the potential to affect a heritage asset (more on this above), it’s likely your council will require a heritage impact assessment. Click the link below to find out all about Planning Direct’s competitively priced heritage impact assessments.
If the building is in an area with lots of traffic, lots of accidents, insufficient parking or substandard roads (etc.), your council may request a transport statement. A transport statement is also likely to be required if the change of use would significantly increase vehicle movements to and from the site. Click the link below to find out more about Planning Direct’s travel plans and transport statements.
How can Planning Direct assist with my change of use application?
Start-to-finish planning service
Planning Direct can assist you with all aspects of your change of use application. Our start-to-finish planning service includes the following:
- design guidance
- planning drawings
- planning statement
- case management*.
*this means we will submit the planning application on your behalf and then act as your agent throughout the process, liaising with your council and any other parties until a decision is reached.
Follow the links below to find out more about these individual planning services.
As part of our start-to-finish planning service, we will also identify whether there is a need for additional reports or documents such as flood risk assessments, transport statements or heritage impact assessments. If these are required, we can either produce them in-house or commission them on your behalf. We will always discuss and agree this with you beforehand.
Follow the link below to find out more about how our external commissions work.
One-off planning services and products
However, not all of our clients require a start-to-finish service. For example, some already have drawings and others simply require a supporting statement* for an application that is already in progress.
*such as a planning statement, heritage impact assessment or transport statement.
For this reason, we offer all of our planning services as one-off products.
Contact us today to let us know exactly what you need and we’ll respond with a bespoke, no-obligation quotation. Our aim is to respond to all new enquiries within 1 working day and we rarely fail to achieve that!
How much will my change of use application cost?
There are two main expenses you’ll need to take into account. These are:
- The cost to prepare and submit the planning application
- The application fee which is payable to your local council.
Currently, the application fee for the change of use of a commercial property (class E) to residential (class C3) in England is £462* per new residential unit. A small processing fee is added on top of this.
If you are submitting a prior approval application, the fees are:
- £96 for Class G
- £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.
For the latest planning application fees, go to the government’s Planning Portal:
Planning Direct’s fees for a start-to-finish change of use planning service start from £1195. Our fees for a prior approval application are even less.
Please be aware that in certain circumstances your local council may request additional reports** which will attract additional fees.
**such as a heritage impact assessment, noise impact assessment or transport statement.
How can I keep costs down?
Generally speaking, the fewer physical changes you need to make to the building, the cheaper the planning application.
You’re also entitled to prepare and submit your own planning applications and there is no obligation to employ a planning consultant. However, a good planning consultant can save you time and money in the long run. This is because there are many pitfalls in planning (technical and otherwise) that the average home or business owner cannot help but stumble into. For example, planning drawings must be drawn to particular scales and include specific features. If it takes you multiple attempts to get this right, you’re likely to spend more money overall.
At Planning Direct, our aim is always to secure our clients the best possible outcome at the lowest possible price. Contact us today to find out more about how we work and how we can help you to secure a commercial to residential change of use.