Out with the old buildings: In with the new houses? | Fieldfisher
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Out with the old buildings: In with the new houses?

Dinah Patel
An amendment to English planning law intends to make it easier to replace empty buildings with additional housing capacity, but restrictions on what can be demolished and what can be built in its place may limit the impact of new legislation.

New legislation that comes into force in England on 1 September 2020 will permit vacant buildings to be demolished and replaced with new dwelling houses.
The purpose of the legislation is to help combat the UK's housing crisis by delivering more houses at a faster rate, through sidestepping the need to obtain planning permission in the traditional way.
The legislation:
Article 4(2) of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) (No.3) Order 2020 (GPDAO 2020) amends the GPDAO 2015 by inserting a new Class ZA in Part 20 of Schedule 2.
Class ZA:
Class ZA permits vacant and redundant free-standing commercial and light industrial premises, and residential blocks or flats, to be demolished and replaced with new residential units within the footprint of the old building.
The replacement building can be up to two storeys higher than the old building with a maximum overall height of 18 metres. The new building must also be built and occupied within three years of the grant of prior approval, putting pressure on developers to secure funding in a short period of time and/or on those whose sites are complex, but should prevent developers from sitting on land that could be used for housing.
There are certain buildings where development under Class ZA is prohibited, including listed buildings, safety hazard areas and those within 3 kilometres of the perimeter of an aerodrome.
The old building must:
  • Not exceed 1,000 square metres;
  • Not be taller than 18 metres at any point;
  • Have been built before 1 January 1990;
  • Have been in existence prior to 12 March 2020; and
  • Have been vacant for at least six months immediately before the application for prior approval to the local authority.
Application for prior approval:
Where any development under Class ZA is proposed, before beginning the development, the developer must apply to the local planning authority (LPA) for prior approval. The developer must provide the LPA with a range of information concerning the proposed development before any permission will be granted.
Factors the LPA will take into consideration include:
  • Contamination risks;
  • Flooding risks;
  • The design and external appearance of the new building (including landscaping);
  • Noise, transport and highways;
  • Impact on businesses and residents in the area;
  • Impact on heritage and archaeology;
  • Method of demolition of the old building; and
  • Overlooking, privacy and light issues.
If approval is granted, the developer is under a condition prior to development to provide the LPA with a report, which the LPA must deem acceptable, detailing how construction of the development will be managed. The report must include information such as the proposed hours of operation, use of materials and the developers' plans for disposal and recycling of waste. 
The impact of Class ZA:
The new legislation should help developers speed up the process of securing planning consent given that certain issues, such as size, height and use have already been approved in principle in comparison to the traditional method of obtaining planning permission.
By stipulating that a building can only be demolished if a new residential property is put up in its place, the legislation should help to avoid situations where buildings are demolished, only for the land to remain vacant for a significant period of time.
It should also encourage development of brownfield sites, which will be popular with opponents of building on greenbelt and greenfield areas of land, and may help reduce the number of vacant retail and leisure units on high streets.
However, given the strict conditions governing the "old building" and the general scope of the new building, it is likely that many developers will be unable to take advantage of this new legislation on all their existing sites.
Also, given the high price of land in town and city centres, developers may find that the restrictions on new buildings mean they are unable to develop sites profitably.
Developers should therefore consider their applications carefully and work with the LPA to come up with a solution that delivers efficient, well-designed homes that complement the local area while also providing a profitable receipt for the developer.
For further information on these changes and how they are likely to affect future planning developments, contact Fieldfisher planning experts, Dinah Patel or Abbie Griffiths.


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