Canada: Planning: Changes Of Use From Offices To Residential - Permanent Change Could Aid Development

Last Updated: June 27 2016
Article by Jan Hebblethwaite


A material change of use qualifies as development under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and therefore requires planning permission. The Town and Country Planning Use Classes Order 1987 (as heavily amended) sets out various types of use where a change does not amount to development. For instance, a retail use in Class A1 would not require permission to change to a different retail use within the same class. Therefore no planning permission is needed.

The General Permitted Development Order (GPDO) 2015 contains various classes of development for which planning permission is granted and includes a number of changes of use which would otherwise require express permission. The GPDO Amendment 2016 makes some changes to the classes relating to the change from offices, warehouse and light industrial premises to residential purposes.

This is one of the Government's proposals to meet its objectives to improve housing provision quickly.


The interest in the "offices to residential" permission was keen at the beginning of the period, especially in London where there may be an oversupply of older office floorspace. However, interest waned as it became apparent that the end date for completion of the conversion (30 May 2016) was fast approaching. There was a Ministerial statement last autumn in which it was announced that the change would be made permanent, but until 14 March, there had been no sign of the new Order which would bring this into force.

It is interesting that several authorities (notably London Boroughs) used their powers to make directions under Article 4 of the GPDO which removed the right to make these changes. Some of these were successful and it is notable that the Order restricts the right to apply for prior approval in some areas until after 2019.

It is also worthy of note that the conversions must be completed within three years. As a general principle local authorities are not able to impose a condition requiring development to be completed. However, on the basis that the relaxation was introduced in order to improve housing supply, it is reasonable to impose a completion requirement.

The other changes to residential use remain as temporary rights. It remains to be seen how successful a change from B8 or light industry might be.

Courtesy of PlanningResource, we know that last year the planning minister confirmed that the government intended to amend the permitted development right to allow demolition and rebuilding of existing offices.

The recent changes to the Order do not contain this provision, but PlanningResource understands that it is still the intention of the Department of Communities and Local Government to make a further change to allow the demolition of offices and replacement as residential use on a like-for like basis. There has been some opposition to this proposal, as some authorities fear that their stock of office floorspace would be seriously undermined.

Detailed provisions

The GPDO Amendment Order 2016 took effect on 1 April 2016 and made the change of use from office to residential purposes permanent. There are a few changes to the operation of the provision and the addition of a new authorised change from light industrial premises to residential.

Class O

This permits a change of use from offices within Use Class B(1)(a) to residential purposes with restrictions. The building:

  • must have been in use as an office on 29 May 2013, or if it was vacant, its last use before that date must have been as an office;
  • cannot be in a safety hazard area, or in a military explosives storage area;
  • cannot be a listed building, within the curtilage of a listed building, or contain a scheduled monument;
  • cannot be within a list of areas specified in the Order, until after 30 May 2019. These areas are within specified areas within some London Boroughs, City of London, Vale of White Horse, Stevenage, Sevenoaks, Ashford and East Hampshire.

The permission is subject to conditions:-

  • Before making the change, the developer must apply to the planning authority for a determination as to whether prior approval will be required relating to:

    • Transport and highways impacts;
    • Contamination and/or flooding risks;
    • Impact of noise from commercial premises on the intended residents.
  • Development permitted under Class O must be completed within three years starting with the prior approval date.

Class P

This permits a change of use from Class B8 (storage and distribution) to residential purposes. It is unchanged by the 2016 Amendment Order and remains temporary. The residential use must begin before 15 April 2018.

The restrictions and conditions are more onerous than those relating to the change from office to residential, requiring that the applicant provides evidence of use of the building for B8 purposes on 19 March 2014 and for four years previously. The planning authority may also take account of the importance of B8 provision in their area.

Class PA

This is a new class introduced by the 2016 Amendment Order. It permits a change of use from Class B1(c) (light industry) to residential.

The permission is temporary and an application for prior approval must be made before 30 September 2017. The following restrictions apply. The building:

  • must have been in use for B1(c) purposes on 19 March 2014, or if vacant, when it was last used;
  • The prior approval date must be before 1 October 2020;
  • the gross floorspace of the building must be 500 square metres or less;
  • the site cannot have been occupied under an agricultural tenancy, unless both the tenant and the landlord agree.
  • An agricultural tenancy of the land was not terminated within the preceding 12 months for the purpose of development under this Class unless both landlord and tenant agree that the building is no longer needed for agricultural purposes;
  • Must be in accordance with the four bullet points above for Class O.

The conditions attached to the permission are as for Class O with the added requirement that the planning authority may take into account the need for B8 provision in its area. The change of use must be completed within three years of the prior approval date.


Town and Country Planning Use Classes Order 1987
Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015
Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) Order 2016

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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