On January 24th the DCLG wrote to all local authorities explaining that the new rights will apply for an initial period of three years, following which consideration would be given to extending the rights indefinitely. There will however be a prior approval process which will cover significant transport and highway impacts, and development in areas of high flood risk, land contamination and safety hazard zones. It was also announced that local authorities would be given an opportunity to seek an exemption for specific parts of their locality, if substantial adverse economic consequences would arise, but exemptions will only be granted in exceptional circumstances. The DCLG emphasised that this measure is seen as an important contribution to assisting the economic well-being of the country, recognising that any loss of commercial premises will be accompanied by benefits in terms of new housing units, additional construction output and jobs.
The news has received a mixed response from developers and local authorities, with concerns being raised about the availability of office accommodation in the future when the recession comes to an end. Cunnane Town Planning does not consider that the new rights will be appropriately applied in all instances. Some office buildings with deep floor plates would be difficult to convert, and in certain commercial locations residential use would not be an attractive proposition. However, smaller buildings in mixed use areas and accommodation above shops could, for example, usefully benefit from the new rules, and whilst physical changes to new buildings will still require permission, substantial savings can be expected from the absence of Section 106 requirements.