Reforms to the Use Classes Order 1987
Flexibility is key, not only since COVID-19 has challenged the ability of all of us to adapt to a new normal. In line with this, the government has decided that the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 (the Use Classes Order) requires further amendments, which are significant and will apply from 1st September 2020.
Material changes in use of land require planning permission and planning permissions take time. In order to permit changes between uses, the current Use Classes Order already permits changes within use classes and the permitted development legislation even allowed changes between certain use classes. The most prominent example is the change of office space Class B1 to residential Class C3 (except where an Article 4 Direction is in place), which had led to an increase of residential conversions of former office spaces in recent years.
Changes within Use Classes are not classed as material changes and therefore do not require planning permission, except where specifically provided in the Use Classes Order. The changes brought about by the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020 will therefore be considerable, as changes within the new Use Classes will be possible without formal planning permission being granted.
New Use Class E
There will be a new use Class E, which covers:
- Food display and retail (except hot food).
- The sale of food and drink with consumption mostly on the premises..
- Financial and professional services (other than health and medical services) and any other services which it is appropriate to provide in a commercial business or service locality.
- Indoor sport recreation or fitness (except involving motorised vehicles or firearms).
- Medical or health services (except premises attached to the residence of the practitioner).
- Creches, day nurseries or day centres.
- Certain offices, research and development facilities and industrial processes, that can operate without detriment to the amenity of the area.
The above are essentially all users currently falling into Classes A1, A2, A3 and B1. From 1st September all of the above will be classed as Class E.
New Use Classes F1 and F2
Furthermore, a new use Class F1 (Learning and non-residential institutions) and F2 (Local community) replace use Classes D1 and D2.
F1 includes the provision of non-residential education and arts displays (not for sale), as well as museums, public libraries, public halls and exhibition halls, places of worship and law courts.
F2 will include shops selling mostly essential goods, including food (in an area of up to 280sqm) and where there is no other such facility within a 1000 metre radius of the shop. It also includes halls or meeting place for the local community, areas for outdoor sport or recreation (non-motorised and without firearms) and indoor and outdoor swimming pools and ice rinks.
New Sui Generis Uses
The following users have now been attributed to sui generis uses (a class of their own) and therefore changes are not permitted, without planning permission, from the following uses:
- Pubs, wine bars and drinking establishments.
- Drinking establishments with food.
- Hot food takeaway for consumption mostly off the premises.
- Live music venues.
- Concert Halls.
- Bingo Halls.
- Dance Halls.
There are transitional provisions in place for those change of use and planning applications that are made before and those still pending on 1st September 2020.
References in Article 4 directions are to be read as previous Use Classes, if the direction was made before 1st September 2020.
The reform of the Use Classes Order is the first significant modification since its introduction and will now permit a number of significant changes of use without the need for planning permission. The most important change is the introduction of the new Class E which covers uses that were formerly classed within A, B and sui generis and hence could not be changed swiftly. The new use Classes F1 and F2 also combine a number of uses that had previously been sitting in different categories and will allow a more flexible use of space in the community going forward.
The use Classes in relation to residential dwellings (Class C) and general industrial and storage and distribution (B1 and B8) remain unchanged.
To view the proposed new Legislation Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020 in its current form click here although we must highlight that the final form may differ from the currently published linked version.
The intention behind the changes to the Use Classes Order is clear: more flexibility for the high streets to avoid empty units and to ensure a diverse mix of occupants in this uncertain time. This brings with it a lot of opportunities for landlords and investors to offer their premises to a wider range of potential occupiers.
However, it should not be forgotten that most existing commercial leases are rather restrictive in terms of permitted use and it remains to be seen if landlords are prepared to loosen the use restrictions in their leases to enable a change of use in the future.
The current situation in relation to COVID-19 brings uncertainty and therefore requires flexibility on the part of landlords and tenants to find creative solutions for commercial spaces. The government was prepared to introduce a permanent change to the Use Class Order and has therefore signalled that it expects flexibility to be the new normal.