Permitted development rights (PDRs) are a statutory planning and development instrument in the UK that grant permissions for property development and extension without the need for planning permission.
With PDRs, you are permitted to develop and alter a building without going through the planning system. This saves time and money spent on the famously bureaucratic planning process.
PDRs cover both residential and commercial buildings and it’s worth getting an idea of what you can and can’t do without obtaining comprehensive planning permission.
The general trend of PDRs is to reduce strain on the planning system, fast-tracking development by circumventing the need for planning. Over time, PDRs have generally become more generous, essentially encouraging building owners and developers to develop and improve their buildings, especially if this includes creating additional residential housing.
The main statutory law for PDRs is The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015.
Permitted development does not apply to either commercial or residential buildings in the following areas:
- Conservation areas
- National Parks
- Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty
- Norfolk and Suffolk Broads
- World Heritage Sights
- Listed buildings (with some conditions)
In these areas, planning permission will be required and you should work with the local council to establish your ideas and work out whether or not they’re possible. Many people get caught out here, especially in rural areas. The government has relaxed PDRs on designated land recently, but developers should always make sure they obtain Prior Approval when they’re unsure of whether their development or extension comes under PDRs for designated land.
It’s never worth assuming that you can erect new buildings or make changes to existing buildings under PDR just because you’re in a rural, isolated location.
An Article 4 direction imposed by a local planning authority removes permitted development rights for a certain area. They’re used if PDR changes and developments could alter an important recognised area, e.g. a period village or town area.
In these situations, you would need to seek planning permission to develop. It’s always the developer’s prerogative to assess for any Article 4s or other barriers to PDRs in floor space and area.
For developing or altering commercial buildings, you will need either planning permission or permitted development to either:
- Carry out external building works or
- Alter the use class of the building
Internal changes within the same use class do not need either permitted development or planning permission, you’re generally free to carry these out at your own will, but be careful that the internal alterations don’t change the use class of a building.
Again, this is an area where you can slip up. PDRs do allow a fair amount of leeway for converting commercial buildings to other use classes, but often you’ll need prior approval and there may be specific conditions attached to the permitted changes. Altering use classes under PDRs shouldn’t be taken lightly and Prior Approval should be sought where necessary.
Changes to the outside of the building typically include extensions, conversions and additional stories. Conversions might involve converting from shops to offices, warehouses to housing, etc.
There is a sort of intermediary between full planning permission and PDRs, and that is Prior Approval.
Prior Approval is an application made to a planning authority that will assess the risks of the proposal. Typical factors taken into account will be contamination risks, flooding, transport infrastructure and access. Prior Approval is required for most changes in Use Class.
Surveyors working on your project will be able to tell you whether or not you’ll need Prior Approval. The process is usually fairly fast, cheap and has a high success rate for simple use class changes. Of course, every situation is different.
When seeking Prior Approval, make sure the details of your application are thorough and comprehensive. You can apply through Prior Approval through the Planning Portal.
Commercial property is subject to PDRS, and it’s possible to make a range of alterations to practically any commercial building.
Here are the main conditions according to the Planning Portal.
Note, the terminology ‘warehouse’ means Class B8 (storage or distribution) of the Schedule to the Use Classes Order. Industrial buildings are typically B2 (General Industrial). The terminology ‘original building’ is also specific and relates to the building as built prior to 1 July 1948.
Any changes and extensions made since then are not includable in PDR plans, e.g. a 125% extension applies only to the original building built prior to 1 July 1948.
The rules for offices and other commercial buildings, e.g. shopping centres, are different (and will typically involve a use class change).
You are permitted to erect entirely new buildings under PDRs.
These are limited in the following ways:
- No new building can be erected to a height greater than 5m if positioned within 5m of the curtilage boundary
- If positioned at a distance of 15m or greater, no new building can be built taller than the tallest building already constructed on the plot
- In specific areas of scientific interest, no new building can exceed 100m2 floor space
- In any other case, the new building may not exceed 200m2
Permitted development is generous for increasing the area of industrial buildings and warehouses, but not the height. The general idea is to allow extensions that increase floor space and area.
- No extension can make a building higher than 5m if it is within 10m of the curtilage boundary.
- In all other cases, the extension cannot be built taller than the existing building being modified.
Other than that, industrial buildings can be expanded considerably:
- On designated land, extensions must not exceed 110% of the original building or 500m2, whichever comes first. On designated land, any new buildings must be constructed in-keeping with the style and materials used for the existing industrial building or warehouse.
- On a site of special scientific interest, extensions must not exceed 125% of the original building, or 1,000m2, whichever comes first
- In all other cases, the extension must not exceed 150% of the original building, or 1,000m2, whichever comes first
It’s crucial to remember that no development can come within 5m of the boundary. Developments can’t reduce parking or the ability for vehicles to turn on the premises.
The new building and extensions must be related directly to the use of the original buildings. The use class cannot change in the same development. Staff facilities or additional research and development space are also permitted (i.e. deemed ‘related’ to the original use of the building).
Any new staff facilities are limited between 7 pm and 6:30 am, when only employees present for employment can use them. This essentially prevents the construction of non-relevant ‘facilities’ that are not used during employment hours.
The law makes it clear that any doubt over whether or not a development or extension comes under PDRs should be cleared up prior to embarking on that development.
By liaising with the planning authority, the developers can also discover whether there is an Article 4 Direction on the site. Other restrictions are also possible and can often not be found out until the planning authorities are contacted.
After discussions are held with a planning authority, it’s possible to obtain a Lawful Development Certificate to certify that the development is permitted and that further planning permission is not necessary.
It is also possible to permanently change the use of a commercial building using PDRs.
The government has relaxed the rules for use class changes, and since changing the Use Class Order in 2020, there is generally greater flexibility for changing use under PDRs.
The following is complex legislation and should be cross-referenced against the Planning Portal.
You can find the latest Use Class Order here.
Note: Permitted development to convert light industrial and warehouses to residential has currently expired (as of 2020, according to the Planning Portal).
Conversion of industrial buildings to residential use currently requires planning permission.
|A2 (professional and financial services)||
|A3 (restaurants and cafes)||A1 or A2|
|A4 (drinking establishments)||A3 (restaurants and cafes)|
|A4 (drinking establishment) with A3 (restaurants and cafes)||A4 (drinking establishments)|
|A5 (hot food takeaways)||
|B1(a) (business – offices)||
|B1(b) (business – research and development)||
|B1(c) (business – light industrial)||
|B2 (general industrial)||
|B8 (storage and distribution)||
|C1 (hotels)||State-funded school or registered nursery, subject to Prior Approval|
|C2 (residential institutions) / C2A (secure residential institutions)||State-funded school or registered nursery, subject to Prior Approval|
|C3 (dwelling houses)||C4 (small houses in multiple occupation)|
|C4 (small houses in multiple occupation)||C3 (dwelling houses)|
|D2 (assembly and leisure buildings)||State-funded school or registered nursery subject to Prior Approval|
|Sui Generis (agricultural buildings)||A1, A2, A3, B1, B8, C1, C3, D2, State-funded school or registered nursery, subject to Prior Approval|
|Sui Generis (amusement arcade)||C3 up to 150m2, subject to Prior Approval|
|Sui Generis (betting and payday loan shops)||
|Sui Generis (casinos)||
|Sui Generis (launderette)||
PDRs are a complex component of planning and development law, and they’re amended regularly too, so staying up to date is notoriously difficult.
When in any sort of doubt about a development and whether or not it falls under PDRs, or can be made to adhere to PDRs, then contact a surveyor who can work with you to establish whether or not your development or extension is possible under PD.
For use changes, it’s almost certain that you’ll at least need Prior Approval and again, this will vastly benefit from the insight and expertise of a surveyor.
As always, definitions within planning law and how these function in real-world developments are tough to unravel and professional help and liaison with the planning authority is the only way to ensure that a development gets the green light under PDRs.