The Planning system has been relaxed – The implications PART 2

Part one of this blog considered the temporary measures which have been introduced regarding relaxation of the rules on change of use in the high street and the extensions to permissions that have been granted. However, as the economy adapts to different ways of working, shopping, and socialising, there are profound implications for the way in which we will use buildings in the future and the demand for buildings in different sectors.

The second half of this blog looks at how demand for property in each of the major sectors may be impacted and how changes of uses might assist in reducing the spectre of increases in vacant property.

• Changes in the demand for traditional office space in towns and city centres and a potential move to the suburbs;
• Fear of a ‘vicious cycle’ of tenants unable to pay rent/rates, landlords not paying tax or defaulting on mortgages, and the system starting to crumble.

• Acceleration of the trend towards online shopping and the exacerbation of the structural changes already evident on the High Street;
• Consumers showing a preference towards smaller towns centres which are more accessible by bike or on foot reducing reliance on public transport;
• Expected closure of many retail outlets such as Debenhams.

• A call for a review of densities in town and city centres;
• More private outdoor space for apartment blocks;
• Demand for well-planned adaptable live/work space;
• Housing closer to service centres.

• Expected increase in staycations but less business travel changing locational demand for hotels;
• More emphasis on self-catering;
• Reduction in demand for indoor leisure activity and
• More outdoor weatherproofed areas for pubs, cafes and restaurants.

Warehousing and manufacturing
• Increased need for resilience in supply chains with demand for more space to hold stock, especially in the food and medical sectors;
• Reduced dependence on the supply of goods from one source e.g. China and a move to more local manufacturing and
• Increased demand for high tech space in the life sciences sector.

Changes in demand by Sector

Sector Winners Losers Potential for change of use
City/town centre Offices    √ Live/work space


City centre Retail/ Shopping centres   √ Current temporary changes to become permanent e.g. restaurants to take away



Local High Street   √ Although some retail may be lost (most likely to residential) smaller centres are predicted to fare better than their city centre counterparts
Leisure   √ Warehousing for out of town sites

Residential in urban centres

Warehousing   √
High-tech manufacturing   √

*Already allowed through the GDPO, subject to limitations and conditions, including the need to apply for Prior Approval.

Whilst the temporary measures are welcomed, clearly there is need for a more radical rethink of the planning system. Measures which accelerate the change of use of existing buildings could also unlock the pipeline of permissions which are technically unimplementable, but now commercially unviable.

There have been a number of announcements around the Government’s Post-COVID Recovery Plan hinting at an overhaul of the planning system, but last week’s statement from 10 Downing Street provides more detail regarding the Government’s plans. In a letter to MPs the Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, added flesh to the bones.

Among the changes proposed are:
• The creation of a new broad category of ‘commercial, business and service’ uses which will allow commercial, retail and leisure uses greater freedom to adapt to changing circumstances.
• A broadening of Permitted Development including leave for homeowners and commercial building owners to extend their properties upwards to create more space via without a planning application.
• Removal of the need for a “normal planning application to demolish and rebuild vacant and redundant residential and commercial buildings if they are rebuilt as homes”.

Whilst these changes are welcome to ensure business can respond quickly to the changing economic environment, the speed with which the measures are being introduced means that the opportunity to review alternatives to the relaxation of Permitted Development rights may be lost. Much has been written about the consequences of the offices to residential relaxation which was brought in in 2013. It is widely recognised that schemes delivered through PD exhibit a significantly worse residential quality than that in schemes which require planning permission. Any reform should seek to ameliorate a process which allows poor quality development through the back door not encourage the opening of Pandora’s Box.