Some proposed changes to the planning system come into force on 21st April:

  • commercial buildings (in Class E for two years) up to 1,500 sq m that have been vacant for at least 3 months can be changed into residential homes using new permitted development rights, subject only to prior approval; and
  • public buildings, including schools, colleges, universities and hospitals, will be able to build additional facilities more easily using a new fast-track approval system.

These changes follow a series of recent measures previously reported, including:

  • relaxation of planning rules to allow pubs and restaurants to operate as takeaways;
  • setting up outdoor markets, marquees, summer fairs, etc without needing any planning applications;
  • longer retail opening hours to give shoppers more flexibility and ease transport pressure; and
  • extension of temporary pavement licence provisions to facilitate alfresco dining.

The change to residential will be allowed from 1st August 2021, when in addition:

  • existing permitted development rights for ports will be amended so that they have the same freedoms as airports; and
  • removal/alteration of unlisted heritage assets (such as statues, memorials and monuments) using permitted development rights will be subject to “due planning process and proper consultation”.

The Government has failed to extend the regulations that allowed planning committees (and indeed other public local authority procedures) to be held online, without the requirement for physical attendance, beyond the expiry date of 6th May.  This decision is, at the time of writing, subject to legal challenge*, but could mean that planning committees have to be either postponed and/or completely revised (for example, moved to larger venues to allow social distancing).  It has been pointed out that elderly councillors will not be at all keen to attend crowded or controversial committee meetings, while younger case officers and planning applicants will not have been vaccinated before 6th May.

ACAPAG responded to the Government’s consultation on proposed amendments to the NPPF, which are in general designed to reflect changes to the housing delivery target system and the building better building beautiful report, and the National Model Design Code.  Our comments were mostly supportive, but we suggested there should be more commentary on the difference between (generalised) design guides and (specific) design codes: the two terms seem to be used interchangeably, which is confusing.  We also proposed some attempt to define “beauty” (ie “good design”) as required by the documents, in terms of scale, vision, coherence and consistency.  We asked for more emphasis on flexibility and proportionality in the preparation of design guides and codes and were concerned that there will not be adequate resources in local planning authorities to prepare good quality codes: there is danger that innovation and specific local knowledge could be lost.  We recorded our support for properly-qualified local design review boards in preference to design codes that may not be sensibly applied and/or used too rigidly – especially by hard-pressed case officers that are not trained in design.

Finally, while The London Plan was finally adopted in March (and at 542 pages is a very comprehensive Local Plan), the Environment Bill has yet again been deferred.

General Permitted Development etc. (England) (Amendment) Order 2021

 This Order amends Part 3 to the GPDO to introduce a new class MA, being a right to change the use of premises from commercial, business or service purposes to use as dwellinghouses.  It also amends several existing rights.

Article 6 of this Order amends Part 3 (changes of use) of Schedule 2 to the GPDO to introduce a new class of permitted development (Class MA), being a right to change the use of premises from commercial, business or service purposes to use as dwellinghouses.

Article 9 amends Class M (extensions etc for schools, colleges, universities and hospitals) of Part 7 (non-domestic extension, alterations etc) of Schedule 2 to the GPDO.  It expands the existing permitted development right in respect of schools, colleges, universities and hospitals to allow a wider range of development, and brings certain prisons within the scope of the right.  The provision also introduces a requirement to apply to the local planning authority for determination as to whether the authority’s prior approval is needed in respect of proposed development of university buildings.

Article 10 amends Class B (dock, pier, harbour, water transport, canal or inland navigations undertakings) of Part 8 (transport related development) of Schedule 2 to the GPDO.  It expands the existing permitted development right to allow development on operational land at a port in connection with the provision of services and facilities.  In addition it introduces a requirement to consult the local planning authority in certain circumstances.

Article 11 amends Class B (demolition of buildings) of Part 11 (heritage and demolition) of Schedule 2 to exclude from the existing permitted development right the demolition of certain commemorative structures that have been in place for ten years or more.

Article 13 makes minor amendment to the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 to clarify the scope of an existing use class.

Article 14 makes minor amendment to the Town and Country Planning (Compensation) (England) Regulations 2015 to add Class MA to the list of development prescribed for the purposes of subsections (2A)(a) and (3C)(a) of section 108 (compensation where planning permission granted by development order is withdrawn) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

Article 15 makes transitional provision, particularly to ensure the continued effective operation of directions made by local planning authorities under article 4(1) of the GPDO restricting development permitted under Class O which will be permitted under Class MA.


On 28 April the president of the Queen’s Bench Division, Dame Victoria Sharp, and Mr Justice Chamberlain dismissed the application ruling that the 1972 Local Government Act requires councillors to be present to make decisions.  The RTPI’s chief executive Victoria Hills has asked Government to introduce primary legislation as “a matter of urgency” to allow virtual meetings to continue while also exploring how a hybrid model could operate.