Class MA – The Arrival of a New Prior Approval

When Class E amalgamated several of the previous use classes in 2020, to allow for greater flexibility to switch between different commercial uses, it was hardly surprising that new change of use prior to approval permitted development rights would follow suit.

Sure enough, the one which caught the eyes of many was the introduction of Class MA (to replace Class O in the old version of the GPDO), to allow the conversion of vacant Class E commercial units into residential use. Suddenly, it wasn’t just offices in the firing line, but also retail, restaurants, storage, indoor sport and recreation, nurseries, and light industrial units.

Of course, like the previous Class O prior approval rights, there are restrictions and conditions in place which applicants need to comply with before this new permitted development right can be applied and be benefitted from. For example, the maximum convertible SQM is 1,500sqm, ensuring that homes pass space standards and evidence must be provided of how the proposed development will impact flood risk, parking, and contamination.

Prior Approval permitted development rights can offer a simpler option to a full planning application, making it a useful tool for property owners. London Boroughs have historically been very quick at issuing article 4 directions on prior approval rights, with Class O being no exception. This removes the right of landowners to benefit from certain permitted development rights. A recent internal review of article 4 directions for Class O confirmed at least 21 London Councils had fully or partially adopted the removal of this right.

With Class O expiring on the 21st of July 2022 and Class MA taking over from the 1st of August 2022, it was anticipated that several Councils would look to have article 4 directions in place ready for this crucial handover date.

However, with Class MA the uptake of article 4s has been slow. In part, this is the result of Housing Minster Stuart Andrew’s writing to central London Boroughs (Westminster, Camden, Kensington and Chelsea, Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Wandsworth) refusing to grant and blocking the Council’s requests for new article 4 directions.

Whilst some Councils have still progressed and, for the most part, adopted new Article 4 directions for Class MA, there are still several Councils across the City of London where this is not the case. For example, in comparison to the 21 boroughs that had Class O article 4s in place, the current internal count on adopted or emerging article 4s for Class MA is 11.

With the 1st August 2022 start date looming, now is a good time to assess whether your vacant commercial property may benefit from Class MA prior approval rights. It is also important to note that this permitted development right is available nationally (subject to article 4s and relevant conditions). Therefore, if you are considering your options and would like an initial conversation about the opportunities that may be available, please get in touch with us.


Chris Moore has over 8 years of experience working on various scaled projects across the City of London and Southeast England. Please contact him on 01242 89005 or email to start a conversation.