Have your say on measures to help protect business premises from conversion into housing without planning permission

This image shows a road sign saying "Industrial estate". Consultation: Better protecting our business premises

The Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead is consulting until 12 March on proposed measures to prevent business premises being converted into housing on key employment sites without full planning permission.   

Currently, developers have national permitted development rights for change from commercial, business or service use – including offices – into residential use via a fast-track check-list procedure known as the prior approval process. This limits councils’ abilities to resist inappropriate conversions – even on sites protected under local planning policy.

The proposed measures, known as an Article 4 Direction, will better protect 31 locations considered most important for supporting jobs and the local economy. It will remove the national rights at those sites, but not prevent conversions where appropriate. It will simply mean developers will have to apply for planning permission for change of use, so plans can be fully considered in line with planning policy.

Between 2013 and 2022, about 32,000 sqm of office floorspace (equivalent to about 2,300 jobs) was lost through permitted development rights across the borough. The Borough Local Plan states that uncontrolled losses of highly accessible office sites cannot be sustained long term and warns that further losses would likely result in allocation of new, greenfield sites to replace them when the BLP is next reviewed.

The council would like to hear from residents, parish councils, landlords, developers, commercial property agents and others on the proposal. To take part, visit https://consult.rbwm.gov.uk/kse or use the public-access computers available at all local libraries, where staff are happy to help you get online if needed.

Alternatively, please visit the council's Article 4 Direction web page where you can view the non-immediate Article 4 Direction document and supporting documents and complete the representation form which can be returned by email or post.

Paper copies of consultation documents are available to view at Maidenhead, Windsor and Ascot Libraries, with paper copies of response forms available from all libraries upon request. Completed forms can be emailed to planning.consultation@rbwm.gov.uk or posted to Planning Policy, The Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead, Town Hall, St Ives Road, Maidenhead, Berkshire, SL6 1RF.

Councillor Adam Bermange, Cabinet member for planning, legal and asset management, said: “We need new housing, but we also need to keep enough space for jobs in the right locations, especially at our most important industrial and business parks. In recent years, the borough has lost a significant amount of much-needed business premises, particularly offices, through national permitted development rights, which unfortunately over-ride local protections. This is not sustainable.

“While such conversions are sometimes appropriate, they often do not provide the quality homes, family homes, or genuinely affordable homes we’re seeking for our borough. These measures will give us a greater level of control over employment floorspace on key sites, to resist inappropriate conversions and to have more control over design and therefore living conditions of residents when conversions are appropriate.

“We’re taking a proportionate site-specific approach, rather than a blanket borough-wide approach, so the usual rights would still apply elsewhere in the borough, including our town centres which are growth areas, covering a large area, where we want to encourage a diverse range of uses. I encourage everyone to have your say.”

Consultation responses will be considered by Cabinet. If confirmed in spring 2024, the measures would take effect in January 2025, subject to no intervention by the Secretary of State.