Use classes have long been significant for operators, tenants and landlords of commercial property as the regulations strictly determined what could or could not take place within a certain premises. Since the 1st September 2020, the old use classes have been replaced with a new, streamlined and simplified system designed to improve the flexibility and efficiency of the planning system.
Under the changes brought about by the introduction of the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020, planning permission was no longer required for premises to change usage between:
Most prominently for the restaurant industry is the introduction of the new Class E, which replaces the original use classes listed below:
Including: Shops, retail warehouses, showrooms, hairdressers, pet shops
Including: Banks, building societies, estate agents, recruitment and employment agencies
Including: Restaurants, Snack Bars and Cafes, premises where food and drink is purchased to be consumed on site
Including: Offices, Research and Development, Industrial Processes
Clinics, Health Centres, Creches, Day Nurseries, Day Centres
E (a) Display or retail sale of goods, other than hot food
E (b) Sale of food and drink for consumption (mostly) on the premises
E (c) Provision of:
(i) Financial Services;
(ii) Professional Services (other than health or medical services), or;
(iii) Other appropriate services in a commercial, business or service locality
E (d) Indoor sport, recreation or fitness (not involving motorised vehicles or firearms)
E (e) Provision of medical of health services (except the use of premises attached to the residence of the consultant or practitioner)
E (f) Creche, day nursery or day centre (not including a residential use)
E (g) Uses which can be carried out in a residential area without detriment to its amenity:
(i) Offices to carry out any operational or administrative functions,
(ii) Research and development of products or processes
(iii) Industrial processes
There are some exceptions to the new Class E, such as rural small shops under 280 square metres that are at least 1km from a similar shop. These establishments form part of the new F2 community use, alongside halls and community meeting places. Pubs and bars that previously occupied the A4 class, as well as takeaways (previously A5) and Cinemas and live music venues (D2) have also had their classifications changed, now falling under the broad Sui-Generis Class. For more information on the Sui Generis Use Class, please read our other blog on the topic.
It is no secret that high streets have been struggling in recent years, against the online behemoths that offer unparalleled convenience and lower prices. These regulatory changes are designed to give owners the flexibility to switch premises from obsolete and struggling functions and towards the more popular and in demand usages such as coffee shops. By cutting down on the bureaucracy involved in premises usage, the choice is taken out of planners hands and given to the free market to decide how best to utilise properties.
Whilst changes between use classes have always been possible for some, and in recent times encouraged by permitted development rights, these recent changes have been designed to make the switching process far easier and quicker. By making this process more efficient, the changes are designed to benefit the trinity of commercial property owners, business operators and consumers.
For the owners, this flexibility of potential usages should make it easier to rent out the premises, due to the wider range of potential tenants and usages. Similarly for business operators, a wider choice of premises has been made available for their easy and convenient usage. The desired end result is that the consumer will benefit from this convenience and flexibility for property owner and operator, and that the free market will decide the most popular use for every premises.
Whilst the changes were designed to remove confusion from the planning system, instead it just replaced the old confusion with new topics. Whereas previously the difference between A1 and A3 for establishments such as coffee shops caused much confusion, most of the current debates revolve around cafe or takeaway classification, that would determine whether a premises counted as a Use Class E or Sui Generis.
Certain councils, especially Local Authorities within London have been against the measures. By transferring much of the planning power outside of their hands, councils have far less sway in long term development plans for an area. This is particularly pertinent when considering the spillover externalities incurred when changing a use case, for example if an office building was converted into a leisure facility. Whilst this might be a profitable move for the owner, operator and members of the public, it might have a significantly detrimental effect on nearby cafes that rely upon the lunchtime trade from the office employees. A central council would consider these knock-on effects whereas a private transaction is much less likely to.
Planning has never been simple, but don’t worry. Our enterprising team have an unprecedented knowledge of the industry, and are available to help with any questions you may have. If you would like help understanding the Class changes and how they affect your plans, contact our team today.
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