In a week of extensive regulatory changes to the planning system, the one that could arguably result in the most radical change to our high streets, has probably been the least headline grabbing.
The Government has made sweeping changes to the Use Classes Order including the creation of a broad new use class – ‘Class E’ – for “commercial, business and service” uses. For those conversant with the current use classes, Class E will incorporate A1 (shops), A2 (financial and professional services), A3 (restaurants and cafes), B1 (business – office and light industry) and some specific D1 and D2 uses – gyms, nurseries and health centres.
Class E comes into force on 1st September 2020. Movement between these different kinds of use is no longer considered development and will not need planning permission. Class E also provides for buildings in a number of uses concurrently or at different times of the day.
This change will bring much welcomed flexibility for businesses to respond to the vast structural changes to shopping, business and leisure habits that have already transformed and will continue to transform our high streets and centres. Changes that have been brought into sharp focus by Coronavirus and particularly lockdown.
What will businesses in Class E use be able to do?
Providing the initial use has been implemented (i.e. occupied and open) it can be changed to another use within Class E. For example, a café could change to an office use or a children’s nursery without requiring planning permission. It also enables a blend of uses to take place within one premises without requiring consent. Useful given that your average town centre is now home to at least one café/artisan bakery/office/bank/yoga studio.
There are caveats. Careful consideration of the planning history of a property will be necessary, as any previous consents which are conditioned to restrict particular uses will still apply.
Other Use Class Changes
There are two other new classes of development:
Class F1 (Learning and Non-residential Institutions) – this comprises previous Class D1 uses that are more likely to involve buildings which are regularly in wider public uses such as schools, libraries, museums and art galleries.
Class F2 (Local Community) – comprising previous Class D2 (Assembly and Leisure) uses that provide for group activities of a more physical nature such as swimming pools, skating rinks and areas for outdoor sports. Also includes halls and meeting places where the use is principally by the local community.
Class A4 (Drinking establishments), Class A5 (hot food takeaway) and cinemas, concert, dance and bingo halls and live music venues (previously all D2) have been removed from the use classes order. These uses are now sui generis and subject to full consideration under the planning application process.
Class C (Residential), B2 (General industrial) and Class B8 (Storage and Distribution) remain unchanged.
There will be a transitional period until 31st July 2021 for the permitted development rights buildings are entitled to on or before 31st August 2020. After which revised permitted development rights have been promised. This is as complicated as it sounds and many have identified potential unintended consequences. As I write I can almost hear the planning lawyers delight as they sharpen their knives.