CAD Divider

A guide to converting a commercial property to residential use

Mar 29, 2023

By Gareth Ellis, Associate Architect, CAD Architects

The restrictions on converting commercial properties to residential have been relaxed over the last seven years, as the government tries to address the current housing shortage in the UK. It is now much more straightforward to change the purpose of a building from commercial to residential, creating the opportunity to design interesting and distinctive new living spaces.

The advantages of this approach

Commercial properties are often available in the heart of towns and cities, close to key local amenities and with good transport links.

Due to oversupply in the market, prices for commercial properties are very competitive. This gives the opportunity to get a good return on investment.

The right commercial property can provide you with an excellent ‘blank canvas’ that you can use to create a unique residential property designed around your specific needs.

Working with an existing structure, rather than building from scratch, can often result in a faster turnaround time on the project.

Be aware of exceptions

There are certain types of commercial property that cannot easily be converted for residential purposes. These include:

· Listed buildings

· Buildings in an area of outstanding natural beauty, national park, or conservation areas

It may be possible to convert some of these types of building, but they will require full planning permission. They will also be subject to detailed scrutiny in terms of the material used and how they will harmonise with the surrounding environment.

Applying for change of use

All buildings in the UK are categorised into classes according to their use. So before you proceed with a project, you will need to apply to your Planning Authority to change the usage class of the property from commercial to residential.

Do you need planning permission?

Some types of conversion do not normally require planning permission, though you will need to obtain prior approval from your authority before you commence work. It is also recommended that you obtain a Lawful Development Certificate.

The types of premises that can usually be developed without a full planning application include:

· Shops

· Showrooms

· Light industrial premises

· Professional services and banks

· Retail warehouses

Even with the examples above, if the premises are larger than 150 square metres, then it is very likely that you will need full planning permission.

You will also need to make a planning application if you intend to make alterations to external appearance of the building or change other key external features such as door and windows.

All the latest guidance on planning applications can be found on the Government Planning Portal at

Getting expert help

This is an area of property development that can offer great potential, but it is important to get some objective, professional advice as early as possible in the process. The team at CAD Architects can help you with:

· Assessing the opportunities offered by a specific commercial property

· Exploring design and development options

· Budgeting and costs

· Compliance with building regulations

· Steering your project through the planning approval process

Get in touch with us today for a no-obligation discussion about your project.

Contact us at : or call us on 01872 630040.