High Court blocks conversion of commercial units into homes

23rd January 2017

High Court blocks conversion of commercial units into homes

Developers have long coveted empty commercial properties with the intention of transforming them into housing, particularly in recent years as the economic downturn and the changing face of industry has radically altered the look and feel of our towns and cities.

Often, their attempts to convert these relics of recession have been frustrated by local authorities intent on keeping them as they are, ready for new businesses to move in when the good times return.

But while national planning policies recognise that there is little point retaining commercial buildings that can neither be sold nor let, one recent case highlights the difficulty developers face in converting units into homes.

In a ruling that will be of interest to property professionals, the High Court blocked plans for business units in the midst of an area famed for artisan workshops to be converted into homes.

Developers had been granted consent to build six town houses, two duplexes and six commercial units in the urban conservation area. However, the latter had remained empty since completion. The local authority nevertheless refused permission for their residential conversion in a decision that was subsequently backed by a government planning inspector.

Although the inspector accepted that the units had been appropriately marketed, he considered that they offered benefits to the area through the provision of additional business floor space. The failure to sell or let the units did not necessarily mean that their future commercial use would be unviable.

In challenging that decision, the developers pointed to Paragraph 22 of the National Planning Policy Framework, which states that planning policies should avoid the long-term protection of sites allocated for employment use where there is no reasonable prospect of a site being used for that purpose.

In dismissing the appeal, however, the Court found that Paragraph 22 was not directly applicable to the units in that they had not been specifically allocated for employment uses. The inspector had also been entitled to conclude on the evidence that there was a viable future for the units as commercial premises.

How can our commercial property lawyers help?

Property, land and buildings play a key role in business, whether as business premises or development and investment opportunities. From the planning consent that starts the process to the legal documents that seal the deal, our specialist team of Commercial Property Lawyers has a wealth of knowledge that can make a transaction happen quickly and effectively.

Our specialist solicitors, based in Ipswich, Hadleigh, Felixstowe, Woodbridge or Melton, can assist with all types of commercial property transactions and property related matters. In addition, we provide specialist advice on investing in commercial property and buying and selling licensed premises, restaurants and hotels. Wherever possible, our commercial property lawyers will give you a fixed fee quotation for the total cost of the legal work required to achieve your objectives.

To find out more, call us on 01394 446142.

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