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Planning Exemption for Converting Vacant Commercial Premises to Residential Use


In November 2020, we wrote of The Planning and Development (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 2018 (the 2018 Planning Regulations) which came into operation on 8 February 2018. These provided an exemption from the requirement to obtain planning permission in respect of the change of use of certain vacant commercial premises to residential use. When introduced this measure was aimed at the productive re-use of qualifying vacant commercial buildings as homes, while also facilitating urban renewal and the bringing on of a stream of increased housing supply.

As set out in our previous publication here, this exemption was limited to certain classes of commercial premises that had been vacant for at least 2 years and where the premises had at some time been used for the use intended. In a COVID-era landscape, where many leases had been terminated and commercial buildings lay empty while employees set up office in their own homes, it was questionable whether the 2018 Planning Regulations were too limited in scope to effectively facilitate their aim.

The original expiry date of the 2018 Regulations was 31 December 2021, which was subsequently extended to 25 February 2022. This arose from the COVID-related extension of statutory deadlines within the planning system in respect of the period March to May 2020.

Since 2018, it is estimated that just under 1,400 homes have been provided through these planning exemptions. Notwithstanding this, the Government identified the extension and expansion of the 2018 Planning Regulations as part of the New Housing Plan for Ireland - Housing for All, the Government’s national plan on housing up to 2030. Under Section 4.10 of the plan the Government committed to such a review and an extension until the end of 2025. This was intended to complement the Town Centre First Policy objectives, in bringing life and vitality back into town centres.

The 2022 Planning Regulations

Accordingly, the Planning and Development Act (Exempted Development) Regulations 2022 (the 2022 Planning Regulations) came into operation on 25th February 2022. This extended the ‘relevant period’ to apply the 2018 exemptions until 31 December 2025. It also expanded the application of the exempted development. This includes an additional Class 12 to Part 4 of Schedule 2 of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001 to 2021 (the Principal Regulations) to include vacant pubs which had been licensed for the sale and consumption of intoxicating liquor on the premises under the Licensing Acts 1833 to 2018, and where such a licence has since lapsed. It is evident this expansion is a reaction to the impact that the pandemic has had on the hospitality industry. According to the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland and the Licenced Vintners’ Association, as of October 2021, 349 pubs had closed since the start of the pandemic, in addition to a 5% drop in licence renewal applications in 2021.

It is notable that the 2018 Regulations were not extended to any developments completed since their commencement. This means the structure must have been completed by 8 February 2018 to be eligible. It would appear that the 2022 Planning Regulations use remains focused on older, vacant properties, rather than dealing with any COVID-era developments that may have not yet fulfilled their initially stated purpose, with such developments remaining within the conventional planning process. The 2018 Planning Regulations contained a number of other requirements which have broadly been repeated in the 2022 Planning Regulations, with some slight changes. For example, to comply with the exemption in the 2018 Planning Regulations the works could not materially affect the external appearance whereas in the 2022 Planning Regulations at least 50% of the external fabric must be retained to be eligible. If you are planning on relying on the exemption in the 2022 Planning Regulations, the detailed list of requirements must be carefully considered to confirm eligibility.

Conclusion

The review and extension of the 2018 Planning Regulations fulfils a commitment made by the Government in their Housing for All plan. This step is one of a much wider range of actions and measures to commit to the development of over 300,000 new social, affordable, cost rental and private homes by 2030, backed by over €20 billion in guaranteed State investment to the end of 2026. Data shows an increase in construction in 2021, up 42% on the year previous. Whilst construction is once again escalating, the number of properties that are vacant in town centres across the country remains notable. The extent to which the 2022 Planning Regulations will facilitate their development into much needed housing in the coming years remains to be seen.

If you would like to discuss any related queries, please contact a member of our Planning & Environment team.

The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.




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