Back in November 2022, Sarah Watts, from Lichfields’ Thames Valley office, summarised Reading Borough Council’s (RBC) confirmation of an Article 4 Direction. This removed certain Permitted Development Rights (PDR) from being used to create new forms of residential development, without the need for planning permission. The conclusion questioned how long Reading’s Article 4 Direction would remain in place, given the likely prospect of intervention by the Secretary of State (SoS). Eleven months on, planning director Nick Kirby and planner Florence Leung (pictured), can now explain the answer to that question…


In 2013 the Government introduced PDR to enable offices to be converted to residential use and create new dwellings when such proposals accorded with the relevant criteria. Since that time several substantial additions have been made to PDR, facilitating both further sources for the creation of new dwellinghouses, whilst also introducing additional standards and prior approval criteria requiring consideration, such as compliance with national space standards and daylight/sunlight analysis.

It is no secret that RBC are not generally supporters of PDR schemes that allow new dwellinghouses to be created through this route. They objected to the original introduction of office to residential PDR around 10 years ago and have objected to further roll outs since.

RBC’s concerns over the use of PDR led them to confirm an Article 4 Direction which came into force on November 15, 2022, to remove PDR for sites in the town centre, district and local centres, core employment area and a number of other commercial areas. Article 4 Directions are required to be supported by strong evidence as to why such a restriction is necessary, and RBC’s justification related to concerns over loss of employment floorspace, the delivery of poor-quality dwellings, lack of outdoor space and failure to provide affordable housing and vital infrastructure. The Article 4 Direction removed the following PDR in designated areas:

  • Change of use of commercial, business and service use [use class E] to residential uses (Part 3 class MA);
  • Change of use of hot food takeaway, betting office, payday loan shop or launderette uses to residential (Part 3 class M);
  • Change of use of casino or amusement arcade uses to residential (Part 3 class N);
  • Demolition of certain residential and commercial buildings and replacement with residential buildings (Part 20 class ZA);
  • Up to two-storey extensions providing housing on certain detached commercial or mixed-use buildings (Part 20 class AA);
  • Up to two-storey extensions providing housing on certain terraced commercial or mixed-use buildings (Part 20 class AB).

Our 2022 article highlighted the notable contribution that office to residential housing completions have made towards RBC’s supply of housing over the last 10 years (as much as 60 per cent of RBC’s annual requirement in 2016/17), and the SoS’s resistance to RBC’s Article 4 Direction in the lead up to it coming into force.

Recent intervention

Our November 2022 article highlighted that RBC were proceeding with adopting the Article 4 Direction at a time when the Government were in sone turmoil – with its third Prime Minister in eight weeks and questioned whether the Government would intervene subsequently.

We now have an answer as on the October 10, 2023 the SoS wrote to RBC with its decision to modify RBC’s earlier Article 4, significantly reducing the spatial extent of where such restrictions can apply.

The SoS’s principal reason for intervening was his contention that RBC’s Article 4 Direction was too widely drawn and did not take a sufficient targeted approach to ensure PDR were only removed in locations where they would they protect the most significant areas of commercial activity within the borough and would have caused wholly unacceptable adverse impacts.

The SoS also laid down a clear marker of the Government’s support for PDR stating: “These permitted development rights support the delivery of new housing and economic recovery and also include a number of safeguards.

The modified direction issued by the SoS means there are now sites within Reading where it will be possible to make applications to use PDR where such flexibilities were previously restricted, to create new housing. This can be through change of use of existing commercial buildings, their demolition and rebuilding as housing or through adding residential storeys above existing buildings. The modified Article 4 Direction creates a patchwork of restricted and unrestricted areas, accompanied by 39 maps detailing the reduced geographical extent within which varying classes of PDR are restricted.  It will be important for these maps to be consulted as the initial step in giving consideration whether the relevant PDR apply within different parts of the Borough.

Where PDR do remain an option on potential development sites, an application to RBC for prior approval of certain matters, and an assessment against the relevant criteria, will remain necessary. Such applications carry a strict 56-day assessment period for the local planning authority (LPA), providing greater certainty than planning application timescales, a measure welcomed by many.

While there remains the possibility for the modified Article 4 Direction to be reviewed and subsequently modified further in the future, the value placed on PDR for their delivery of housing and the support offered to economic recovery have been made clear by the SoS, together with their expectation that clear and convincing evidence will be needed to support any Article 4 Direction.

The SoS’s decision places the onus on RBC to publicise the modified Article 4 Direction before it comes into force, and at this stage, the full extent of this publication, and therefore the subsequent timing of the revised Article 4 coming into force, is uncertain.

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