A note on prior approval for office to residential conversions

In determining an appeal against the refusal of prior approval for the change of use of the upper two floors over a shop unit in a Surrey town centre from office use to four flats an inspector examined the question of whether the need for external works to implement the change of use disqualified the proposal as permitted development under Class O of Part 3 (DCS Number 400-011-323).

The existing access to the upper floors was through the shop. The proposal included a new side door to the existing stairs to the upper floors. At first floor level an existing external fire door to a flat roof would be blocked off and at second floor level the external alterations would include two new rooflights for the bedrooms and one new bedroom window. The council’s decision notice stated that prior approval was refused because Part 3 Class O of the GPDO does not make provision for alterations or extensions to buildings and because the external ground and first floor alterations specified on the submitted drawings would require planning permission.

The inspector agreed that if the submitted plan includes any building operations then they cannot be approved under the prior approval process for Class O since Class O does not cover such operations. He reasoned, however, that this should not prevent consideration of the principle of the change of use under Class O. It would remain open to the successful applicant for prior approval to make a separate application for planning permission for any external alterations that were necessary to implement the change of use.

So, in order to gain approval for office to residential conversion where building operations are involved it is necessary to apply for both prior approval and planning permission. Has this really made the planning system simpler?

The following DCP chapter is relevant: 4.3423

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