Land and buildings are divided into various categories called ‘Planning Use Classes’ which determine the purpose for which they can be used. These are specified by the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987, which is periodically updated, and where necessary any interpretation is subject to the judgement of the Local Planning Authority. The latest updates to legislation came into force on 23 May 2017.

List of Use Classes:

A1  ShopsShops, retail warehouses, hairdressers, travel and ticket agencies, post offices, pet shops, sandwich bars, showrooms, domestic hire shops, dry cleaners, funeral directors. [Permitted changes: A1 or A2 and up to two flats*; Temporary (2 years) to A2, A3 or B1; C3*; A2; A3*, D2*.]

A2  Financial and professional servicesFinancial services such as banks and building societies, professional services including estate and employment agencies. [Permitted changes: A1; A1 or A2 and up to two flats*; Temporary (2 years) to A1, A3, B1; C3*; A3*; D2*.]

A3  Restaurants and cafesPlaces for the sale of food and drink for consumption on the premises, including restaurants, snack bars and cafes. [Permitted changes: A1; A2; C1, C2; Temporary (2 years) to A1, A2, B1*.]

A4  Drinking establishmentsPublic houses, wine bars or other drinking establishments, excluding night clubs, including drinking establishments with expanded food provision. [Permitted changes: A4 with A3.]

A5  Hot food takeawaysFor the sale of hot food for consumption off the premises. [Permitted changes: A1; A2; A3; Temporary (2 years) to A1, A2, A3 or B1*.]

B1  Business(a) Offices (other than those that fall within A2); (b) Research and development of products and processes; (c) Light industry appropriate in a residential area. [Permitted changes: B8; B1(a) to C3*; Temporary (2 years) to A1, A2, A3; State funded nursery or school*; B1(c) to C3*]

B2  General industrialUse for industrial process other than one falling within class B1. [Permitted changes: B1; B8.]

B8  Storage or distributionThis class includes open air storage. [Permitted changes: B1; C3*.]

C1  HotelsHotels, boarding and guest houses where no significant element of care is provided (excludes hostels). [Permitted changes: State funded nursery or school*.]

C2  Residential institutionsResidential care homes, hospitals, nursing homes, boarding schools, residential colleges and training centres. [Permitted changes: State funded nursery or school*.]

C2A  Secure residential institutionsSecure residential accommodation, including use as a prison, young offenders institution, detention centre, secure training centre, custody centre, short term holding centre, secure hospital, secure local authority accommodation or use as a military barracks.

C3  Dwellinghousesthis class is formed of 3 parts: (a) covers use by a single person or a family, an employer and certain domestic employees, a carer and the person receiving the care and a foster parent and foster child. (b) up to six people living together as a single household and receiving care. Supported housing schemes such as those for people with learning disabilities or mental health problems. (c) allows for up to six people living together as a single household. A small religious community may fall into this section as could a homeowner who is living with a lodger. [Permitted changes: C4]

C4 Houses in multiple occupation – Small shared houses occupied by between three and six unrelated individuals, who share basic amenities such as a kitchen or bathroom. [Permitted changes: C3]

D1  Non-residential institutionsClinics, health centres, crèches, day nurseries, day centres, schools, art galleries, museums, libraries, halls, places of worship, church halls, law court. Non residential education and training centres. [Permitted changes: Temporary (2 years) to A1, A2, A3, B1*.]

D2  Assembly and leisureThis includes cinemas, music and concert halls, bingo and dance halls (not including night clubs), swimming baths, skating rinks, gymnasiums or area for indoor or outdoor sports and recreations. [Permitted changes: State funded nursery or school*; Temporary (2 years) to A1, A2, A3, B1*.]

Sui GenerisCertain uses do not fall within any use class and are considered ‘sui generis’. Examples include theatres, nightclubs, launderettes and casinos. [Permitted changes: Temporary (2 years) to A1, A2, A3, B1*.]

*Requires approval.

Some changes of use of a building or land do require planning approval, but often a change of use of a building or land does not need planning permission where the proposed use is similar to the existing. Permission is not usually needed when existing and proposed uses fall within the same class, or if the Planning Use Classes Order allows a change of class to another specified class, as detailed above. In these cases, a property’s use classification can often be changed under permitted development rights.

A Worked Example:

Planning permission for a change of use would not be required if a hairdresser’s unit was changing use to a pet shop (both A1). However, it would be required if a sandwich bar, where customers cannot eat in (A1), was changing use to a cafe where customers can eat on the premises (A3). Some changes of use are discouraged, such as changing residential property to commercial property.

Commercial to Residential

Trends for changing use tend to fluctuate depending on the relative value of residential and commercial property, making one or the other more desirable. Currently, the government wants to encourage the change of use of commercial to residential, to help address the housing shortage. Offices (B1) are able to be changed to dwellinghouses (C3) under permitted development rights, to create new homes in existing buildings. Certain areas are exempt, these are mostly in London, but also in other areas of the southeast of England.

Permitted Development

Local planning guidelines will also determine which use changes are permitted. Local authorities often designate commercial areas with their planning guidance, where shops and offices are encouraged and other uses are largely excluded. It can be difficult to achieve planning permission for a retail use outside of these designated zones. Permitted development rights are also not usually applicable in conservations areas, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Parks, the Broads and World Heritage Sites.

Local planning authorities are also able to remove permitted development rights in certain areas at their discretion. This means that you will require planning permission even if a change of use is generally permitted. It is prudent to check whether planning permission for your intended use is required before undertaking any building work, negotiating a lease or buying a property.

If you intend to proceed with change of use under permitted development rights, it can be useful to apply for a lawful development certificate (LDC). This is less onerous than applying for planning permission. A LDC will confirm that your development is lawful, should you need to prove this in the future. This certificate may be required when you sell the property.

In some cases, a site might not require planning permission for change of use. However if there is building work involved, it may still require other planning approvals. When considering your approach it is also important to consider whether your site is part of a Conservation Area, National Park, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) or Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI), or whether the building is a listed Building, locally listed or a Scheduled Monument. Works can also be affected by Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs) that prevent the removal of specific trees or groups of trees. Specific information is widely available on local authority websites.

Other Approvals Required

You will be required to obtain Building Control approvals for most building projects. This is required separately from planning permission. There are distinct differences in building regulation requirements for residential and commercial properties. The regulations address design and operational issues including means of escape, energy use, accessibility, transport, construction methodology and health and safety concerns.

Use changes can also be subject to freeholder approval. This will depend on the terms of the lease so it is important to check the particulars for any restrictions.

Please contact Architecture for London if you would like to review Planning Use Classes and permissions in more detail, or have queries in relation to a specific site. We would be happy to arrange a meeting with an architect to discuss your project in detail.

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