What is the new Class MA and why are we so excited about it!

Class MA permitted development rights are fast becoming the single most effective tool for SME developers to rapidly increase the value of a site, without all of the risks of an application for full planning permission.  So much so that, even though the ‘MA’ supposedly stands for – ‘Mercantile to Abode’, it is probably more appropriate to refer to it as the ‘Mother of All’ permitted development rights!

This new permitted development (PD) right allows for the conversion of buildings in commercial, business and service use (Use Class E) to self-contained residential use, though they cannot be converted to an HMO. Larger retail uses are also capable of conversion to residential.

This means that a significant number of buildings that might now be on the market are much more accessible for conversion to residential property in terms of planning opportunity.

Class MA Limitations

There are however some limiting aspects of Class MA to be aware of:

Vacant property – the property must have been vacant for a period of 3 months prior to the application for Prior Approval.

Date stamped – the property must have been in Use Class E for at least 2 years.

Property size – the cumulative floor space must be less than 1,500 sqm.

Location – Class MA doesn’t apply in the following areas:

  • Site of special scientific interest
  • Is a Listed Building
  • A safety hazard area
  • A military explosives storage area
  • A scheduled monument
  • A site specified under section 41(3) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
  • AONB, the Broads, a National Park or a World Heritage site.

Class MA is available in conservation areas, but if you are converting the ground floor in such an area, then an impact assessment will need to be undertaken.

Conditions to consider

The new permitted development right allows for most properties that are registered under Use Class E to be converted to residential, however, there are many conditions to deliberate, such as:

  • Adequate natural light
  • Noise impact on future occupiers
  • Parking, highways, and access
  • Flood risk – flood zone 2&3, poor surface water
  • Contamination risk
  • Heritage Impact (Conservation Area)
  • Suitability of location for housing if in ‘an area of heavy industry and waste management’
  • Registered nurseries & NHS-clinics: ‘local provision’ test
  • National Space Standards
  • Fire Safety (e.g., a fire safety strategy)

Timing is critical

Applications under Class MA have a time limit of 56 days/8 weeks, similar to other prior approvals.

However, a number of considerations could impact on this ‘application clock’, such as:

  • Public sector pressures
  • Time, resources and experience of local authority officers
  • Article 4 directions – if a direction has been made then prior approval needs to be obtained before the direction comes into force
  • Daylight and sunlight assessment – it is best to assess this in advance of submitting an application
  • Who to instruct and when – the list of conditions above triggers the need to consider which consultants to engage and for what purpose

Once granted there are three years from the date of the prior approval to complete the development.

According to gov.uk, the Government responded ‘the new right makes an important contribution to housing delivery, including suburban and rural areas’ furthermore they reflect on the 1,500 sqm space limit and vacancy limitation; ‘This will help focus the right on smaller buildings that may more easily change use, and which are already vacant, thereby protecting existing businesses. Larger buildings may continue to be brought forward for redevelopment under a planning application, and in such cases may attract affordable housing.’

It looks and sounds like a complicated minefield, BUT, with careful planning and the right team in place, positive outcomes are more than possible.

DRK Planning Ltd is a multi-disciplinary planning and development consultancy practice founded by David Kemp. With more than 20 years of experience in planning consultancy. DRK Planning provides a diverse range of expertise, adding value to owners and businesses through a wide range of property services.

If you have an enquiry about Class MA – email info@drkplanning.co.uk we’re happy to discuss your project in an initial brief introductory call.