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High Court Blocks Conversion of Commercial Units into Homes

National planning policies recognise that there is little point retaining commercial buildings that can neither be sold nor let. However, in a ruling 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.