Changes to the Use Class Order

23rd July 2020
By Billy Pattison

The use classes order has been subject to tinkering over the years since its introduction in 1987 and many are of the consensus that it is not fit for purpose, particularly in cases where the proposed use does not neatly fit within one of the use classes. This week the Government introduced radical changes to the use classes order to support the recovery and reimagination of our high streets and towns. The changes, which are summarised below, will create far greater flexibility for ‘town centre’ uses, particularly in light of the current pandemic.

From 1st September 2020 the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020 (2020 No. 757) will come into force. In short, three new use classes will be created:Class E (Commercial, business and service), Class F.1 (Learning and non-residential institutions) and F.2 (Local community).

Class E
Class E creates a new commercial, business and service use class which subsumes retail (A1), financial and professional services (A2), restaurants and cafes (A3) and business (B1a/b/c) use classes. Uses such as gyms, nurseries/creches and health centres (previously in use classes D1 Non-residential institutions and D2 Assembly and leisure) and other uses which are suitable for a town centre area are also included in Class E. From 1st September planning permission will not be required for changes between these, until now, different kinds of uses. This is because they are now grouped into the same use class and therefore will not constitute development.

For example a retail shop can change to a restaurant or a large office block outside the town centre could change to a retail supermarket without needing planning permission for a change of use (providing there are no restrictive covenants, conditions, s106 obligations restricting the existing use). Planning permission will still be required for any external alterations.

The regulations also create Classes F1 and F2 which include local community, non-residential and learning uses, which are considered important to local communities and which will be protected through the planning system rather than given the additional flexibility provided to Class E uses.

Class F1
‘Learning and non-residential institutions’ such as schools, non-residential education and training centres, museums, public libraries, places of worship and law courts.

Class F2
‘Local community’ uses such as community halls, meeting places and recreational facilities such as swimming baths and sports facilities. This also includes small-scale shops (up to 280sqm, located 1000 metres or more from another retail unit).

Sui generis
Uses which can have potential amenity impacts on neighbouring properties will become sui generis and any material change of use will require planning permission. This includes pubs/bars, takeaways, cinemas, concert, dance and bingo halls.

The current use classes order is undoubtedly unwieldy and has struggled to keep pace with modern retail trends. This dramatic deregulation will provide greater flexibility and opportunities for landowners by enabling the adaptation of uses to respond to market trends and will change the way in which town centres and high streets evolve. Office and retail protection policies which are common within Local Plans across the country are likely to become redundant and Local Planning Authorities will have significantly less control over the mix of uses within their local areas. Such a significant change to the planning system is likely to have overarching, and potentially unintended, consequences. For example, will the broadening of the use class result in Local Planning Authorities imposing numerous planning conditions on new developments in a bid to retain some control of the significant number of varying uses which fall within Class E? To what extent will landowners temporarily change the use of their properties, to uses which are also within the new Class E, in order to sidestep policies which, for instance, protect buildings in office use? Time will tell in the Autumn when the changes come into force.

Boyer are continuing to review the proposed changes and potential impacts and will be providing a more detailed summary in due course. In the meantime if you have any questions or enquiries then please get in touch to discuss further.

 
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