Planning Use Class Reforms – Rethinking the Class System

Significant changes to the planning use class system in England will take effect from 1 September 2020 with the intention of enabling various premises to flexibly change use without obtaining express planning permission. 

The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020 (“the Regulations”) will amend the existing Use Classes Order 1 so as to provide 3 new use classes, with the previous classes A and D being revoked and class B amended. Specifically, the Regulations will introduce:

  • Class E – ‘Commercial, Business, and Service’ (including retail, cafés / restaurants, financial and professional services, offices, indoor sports, medical clinics, pharmacies, day nurseries and creches, any industrial processes which can be carried out in a residential area without causing detrimental amenity impacts, and “any other services which it is appropriate to provide in a commercial, business, or service locality”);
  • Class F1 – ‘Learning and Non-Residential Institutions’ (including schools, training centres, museums, public libraries, public halls, places of worship, courts, art galleries);
  • Class F2 – ‘Local Community’ (including community halls, outdoor sport or recreation facilities, swimming pools and skating rinks, and shops selling essential goods which cover and area less than 280 sqm and where there is no other such facility within a kilometre radius).

The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 2 confirms that a change of use will not involve ‘development’ where the new use and former use are within the same class. Therefore, planning permission may not need to be obtained to authorise a change between any of the uses falling
within the new Class E. As well as facilitating changes in use of buildings located in town centres and high streets, the Regulations may also provide opportunities for out-of-centre business parks to be put to retail or commercial uses.

Notwithstanding this fact, there are a number of potential issues which developers and landlords will need to consider before changing the use of a building in the absence of express planning permission:

  1. Conditions and planning obligations attached to previous permissions may still limit the use to which a building can be put to. We therefore advise that the terms of any previous planning permissions be carefully reviewed before instituting any new use in reliance upon the Regulations;
  2. Planning permission will still be required to authorise any works that have a material effect on the external appearance of a building. Similarly, listed building consents will also need to be obtained to authorise internal works where relevant;
  3. Any uses previously within the scope of Classes A and D and which do not fall within the new classes outlined above will become sui generis uses. These uses include pubs and drinking establishments (previously Class A4), hot food take away (formerly Class A5), and cinemas / live music venues (previously Class D2). A change of use from one of these uses to another previously within the same class will now constitute development requiring planning permission. The fact that such premises are to be regarded as sui generis uses may also restrict any permitted development rights previously applicable, although the Regulations confirm that the previous Use Classes will remain relevant to some permitted development rights until 31 July 2021.

Our specialist planning lawyers are experienced in advising upon all aspects of changes of use, and the need to obtain any permissions, prior approvals, or consents relating to the same. We also advise in relation to applications for lawful development certificates where formal confirmation is required as to whether a proposed change of use would be authorised. 

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