Shops (Class A1) and financial and professional services (Class A2) are now within the property types that can be made into residential (C3).
Of course, there are restrictions. Importantly the change is only allowable if the building was used for a purpose within the use classes of A1 and A2 on 20 March 2013 or if the building was not in use on this date or since.
Equally the clause cannot take effect if the cumulative floor space exceeds 150m square or if the development is within certain restricted areas such as national parks and heritage sites or is, for example, listed. Also, prior approval from the planning authority may be required if issues of traffic management or flooding may arise.
On the one hand, these permissions seem like a quick fix to the supply of residential living space. Developers on the whole are keen to avoid brownfield sites as they incur far more cost and delay, but freeholders wishing to increase their returns now have a reason to switch the usage of these properties in some of our cities.
A stroll around some areas of London will quickly illustrate how much of our high streets, which are already under threat from crippling rates, online shopping, and out of town centres will benefit from conversion to become real living spaces again.
Behind many shop fronts are Victorian fronts that can again provide real housing in our town centres. This legislation may well be appropriate to help in rural areas too but it is in our towns and cities that we will see its greatest effect.
Realistically, this is less about solving any housing supply and demand than kick-starting economic activity but nevertheless we may be grateful as this broadening in legislation may breathe new life into otherwise suffering streets.
Robin Johnson is managing director at KFH Chartered Surveyors