Converting a business into a home: can we convert a seaside amusement arcade into a residential property and how do we get permission?

Question: “We have just seen a small vacant amusement arcade for sale overlooking the sea in Hastings and we think it would make a wonderful family home. It’s away from the promenade so it should be quiet whilst still being close to shops and the train station.

I would like to know if we could convert the amusement arcade into a family home and what, if anything, should we consider before we buy?

Answer: Under class N of the GDPO [2015 as amended] you are allowed to convert an amusement arcade or a casino [falling within a ‘sui-generis’ use class and containing no more than 150 sqm] into a residential dwelling. This may also include reasonable renovations to enable the building to function as a home.

You will first need to make a ‘prior approval’ application to the Council. They will consider the potential transport and highways impacts, contamination and flood risks and the proposed external appearance of the building.

Whilst the assessment of an ‘prior approval’ application is limited to only four distinct considerations, it is my view that the Council should be supportive of your application subject to the conversion posing no serious flood or contamination risks to the future occupant’s health and safety, not increasing car parking pressures on surrounding streets and subject to any new windows, doors, exterior walls etc being of a good quality and of an appropriate design, particularly if located within a conservation area.

Listed buildings cannot be converted under class N.  

Beginning in the 1960s the decline in the number of visitors to British seaside resorts resulted in the conversion of many theatres, ballrooms and pavilions into amusement arcades. These contained mostly ‘fruit machines’ and video games.

Many seaside resorts began gaining poor reputations for anti-social behaviour and low level crime and since then [and with few exceptions] resorts have continued to lose their appeal.

The fall in demand for B&B and hotel accommodation precipitated their conversion to ‘Houses in Multiple Occupation which have now proliferated. HMOs are being increasingly used to provide temporary accommodation for vulnerable adults and children.

Last year’s House of Lords report on ‘The future of seaside towns’ identified this trend as one of the barriers to inward investment and regeneration. Good quality family dwellings must be supported if seaside towns are to have their ‘renaissance’.

44% of the England and Wales coast is defended to prevent or reduce flood risk. You should contact the Environment Agency to see if your property is located within flood zones 2 or 3 (medium and high probabilities of flooding respectively).

National planning policy seeks to direct new development (including conversions) away from areas at risk of flooding (i.e. to zone 1 – low probability); zone 2 will only be considered appropriate if you can demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Council that there are no appropriate sites currently available in zone 1.

In zone 3 you’ll need to [in addition] demonstrate that the conversion would provide wider sustainability benefits and be safe to live in.

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