Office and Retail to Residential Conversions (Class MA)

The General Permitted Development Order (GPDO) allows for various developments and changes of use, without the need to apply for planning permission. A relatively recent, and increasingly popular part of this legislation is Class MA, which allows for change from Class E (shops, offices, cafes, restaurants etc.) to Class C3 (residential dwellinghouses). This is subject to Prior Approval by the local authority. 

Simply put, this is a sort of ‘light’ planning application - it allows the Local Planning Authority to consider the proposals and the potential impacts in relation to certain specific factors and any mitigation measures required. In the case of conversion from Class E to Class C3, the relevant factors that the Local Planning Authority would consider include Transport/Highways impacts, Flood Risk, Contamination, Noise, Light, and the compatibility of residential use with the existing surrounding land uses.

The Local Planning Authority has a time limit of 56 days to issue their decision, after which consent is deemed to be granted unless an extension of time has been agreed. (Clarification regarding the implications of extended time limits for prior approval applications is provided in case law, most notably Gluck v Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government [2020] EWHC 161).

Use Class E (Commercial, Business and Service)

E(a) Display or retail sale of goods, other than hot food

E(b) Sale of food and drink for consumption (mostly) on the premises

E(c) Provision of:

E(c)(i) Financial services,

E(c)(ii) Professional services (other than health or medical services), or

E(c)(iii) Other appropriate services in a commercial, business or service locality

E(d) Indoor sport, recreation or fitness (not involving motorised vehicles or firearms or use as a swimming pool or skating rink,)

E(e) Provision of medical or health services (except the use of premises attached to the residence of the consultant or practitioner)

E(f) Creche, day nursery or day centre (not including a residential use)

E(g) Uses which can be carried out in a residential area without detriment to its amenity:

E(g)(i) Offices to carry out any operational or administrative functions,

E(g)(ii) Research and development of products or processes

E(g)(iii) Industrial processes

There are various limits and conditions to this permitted change of use:

·       The maximum floor space is 1,500 square metres, and anything over 18 metres in height, or seven storeys would require a fire safety report to be submitted to the local authority.

·       Additionally, the building must have been vacant for at least 3 months prior to the change of use.

·       Any external changes such as new windows and doors would likely need a separate planning application.

·       The change cannot be to a listed building.

·       The building must not be on Article 2(3) Land (within a National Park, World Heritage Site etc.)

It should be noted that some councils have introduced Article 4 Directions. Article 4 of the General Permitted Development Order gives councils the power to make Directions which withdraw Permitted Development Rights. Following such a Direction, planning permission would then be necessary for development to which the Article 4 Direction relates. In the case of Class MA conversions to residential use, numerous London Borough councils have implemented this restriction, in order to protect business and retail uses in town centre locations.

WEA Planning can advise on proposals for change of use, and help you obtain the necessary certificates or planning permissions. Please do not hesitate to contact us and we can discuss your options.


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