Market Insight

Planning changes restrict council influence over unwanted development

As part of the Government’s on-going measures to improve the planning system to ‘increase housing supply on brownfield land, stimulate investment in urban areas and sustain jobs’, new permitted development rights (PDR) were introduced to allow change of use from commercial to residential, without the need for full planning permission.
October 1, 2021
Following a statement from government on 1 July, these rights were extended with immediate effect – a move which Housing minister, Christopher Pincher, was forced to defend, arguing that the expansion of PDR would revive the country’s ailing high streets.

But what exactly has changed and what effect will it have on local authorities seeking to regenerate their town centres? Our planning team explores.

What was announced?

Under the changes which came into force on 1 July, a “higher threshold” for the use of ‘Article 4’ directions was introduced, in paragraph 53 of the in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

Under the under the new rules, as local authority, you will be required to notify the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government (DHCLG) about new Article 4 directions, which DHCLG will closely monitor to ensure compliance with the new policy.

Article 4 directions are used by councils to suspend individual permitted development rights (PDR) in a given area.

However, under the changes announced, Article 4 directions will now need to be “targeted and well-evidenced with clear justification for their introduction and must only apply to the smallest geographical area possible to accomplish their objective.”

What does this mean in English?

The changes effectively place fresh limits on the ability of councils to manage and steer PDR development within their local area.

This will be particularly important for those councils that do not have significant landholdings in their town centres, as they will now have a lot less control over what is developed there.

The use of Article 4 directions to remove national PDR should:

  • Where they relate to change from non-residential use to residential use, be limited to situations where an Article 4 direction is necessary to avoid wholly unacceptable adverse impacts (this could include the loss of the essential core of a primary shopping area which would seriously undermine its vitality and viability, but would be very unlikely to extend to the whole of a town centre)
  • In other cases, be limited to situations where an Article 4 direction is necessary to protect local amenity or the well-being of the area (this could include the use of Article 4 directions to require planning permission for the demolition of local facilities)
  • In all cases, be based on robust evidence, and apply to the smallest geographical area possible.


Why restrict use of Article 4 directions?

The latest measures restricting the use of Article 4 directions are designed to limit the adverse impact of PDR on commercial centres, such as loss of core shopping areas to residential development.

“Our policy on Article 4 directions is used in a highly targeted way to protect the thriving core of historic high street areas, but does not unnecessarily restrict the ability to deliver much needed housing through national permitted development rights.”

Robert Jenrick, Minister of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Mr Jenrick believes that the new “higher threshold” for the use of Article 4 will “maximise the potential for underused buildings to be converted to an alternative use”.

However, the Local Government Association opposes the move, which they believe “removes a council’s ability to make local decisions based on local need”.

This is particularly true for those local authorities without significant town centre land holdings, as they will now hold less influence over what is developed there, despite what is mapped out in their Local Plan.

Councils that do own large swathes of their towns and cities could still control development for land within their ownership, if required. It could even provide investment opportunities for Councils to benefit from the permitted development regime, perhaps as part of wider regeneration initiatives.

Overall, the changes do have the potential to deliver a significant amount conversion from non-residential to residential in town centres, which would allow much needed footfall back into these areas, which can only be positive in town centre regeneration terms.


To understand more about what the latest changes mean in practice for landowners, developers, and occupiers alike, don’t hesitate to contact our planning team, who work with over 60 local authorities across the UK on the full range of planning matters.

Meet the team