Blueprint (planning). Photo by Sven Mieke on Unsplash

Changes to planning ‘use classes’ enables repurposing of high streets

Changes made to the classification scheme for different uses of property provide flexibility for developers in England at a time when there is a need to repurpose town centres and high streets.

The amendments made to planning regulation largely take effect from 1 September 2020.

Changes to use classes

The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020 amend the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 and introduce significant changes to the system of ‘use classes’.

In force from 1 September 2020, subject to certain transitional provisions, the core changes include the recalibration of the classification of uses of property. Classes A, B1 and D1, applicable to retail, office and non-residential institutions and assembly and leisure uses respectively, are removed and new use classes introduced in their place. The new Class E encompasses commercial, business and service, while the new F.1 and F.2 apply to learning and non-residential institutions and local community use respectively.

In addition, some uses which were previously given their own use class have been moved into the ‘sui generis’ category, meaning they will from now belong to no specific class. Changes to and from these uses will be subject to full local consideration through the planning application process.

The residential (C classes), general industrial (B2) and storage and distribution (B8) use classes remain unchanged, except for a new cross reference in the B2 class to the new Class E ‘commercial’ use class.

The table below provides a brief summary of how uses will be reclassified from 1 September 2020:

 Use Use class until 31 August 2020 Use class from 1 September 2020
Shops A1 E
Financial & Professional Services A2 E

Food & Drink (mainly on the premises)

A3 E
Business (office, research and development and light industrial process) B1 E
Non-residential institutions (medical or health services, crèches, day nurseries and centres) D1 E
Assembly and Leisure (indoor sport, recreation or fitness, gyms) D2 E
Non-residential institutions (education, art gallery, museum, public library, public exhibition hall, places of worship, law courts) D1 F.1

Shop no larger that 280sqm (selling mostly essential goods and at least 1km from another similar shop); community hall, outdoor sport/recreation area, indoor or outdoor swimming pool, skating rink

A1 F.2
Public House, wine bar, drinking establishment A4 Sui generis
Hot Food Takeaway A5 Sui generis

Cinema, Concert Hall, Bingo Hall, Dance Hall, Live music venue

D2 Sui generis

Why have the changes been made?

The government has said that the main driver of change has been the need to enable a repurposing of buildings on high streets and town centres. The new Class E allows for a mix of uses to reflect changing retail requirements. It will allow a building to be used flexibly by having a number of uses taking place concurrently or by allowing different uses to take place at different times of the day. Changes to another use, or mix of uses, within this class will not require planning permission.

The new concept of ‘Local Community’ uses – Class F2 – has been introduced to ensure important community facilities are protected through the planning system. Again, changes of use within this class do not require planning permission.

Transitional provisions and new guidance

The new regulations contain some detailed transitional provisions which will affect how and when changes take effect in practice.

Move from existing to new use classes

From 1 September 2020 onwards, if a building or other land is being used in a way falling within Class A1 (shops), A2 (financial and professional services), A3 (restaurants and cafés) or B1 (business) then it will be treated as though it is being used for a purpose specified in the new Class E. Change of use to another use within Class E will be allowed without the need for planning permission…

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