In July 2020 the Government announced radical changes to our planning system, overhauling our previous long standing Use Classes Order in favour of increased flexibility in the hope of supporting the recovery of our high streets and towns.

The new provisions came into force on 1 September 2020 and allow significantly greater flexibility to change uses within towns across England without the need to obtain planning permission.  The changes saw us wave goodbye to Classes A1, A2, A3, B1, D1 and D2 all of which have been revoked in favour of a new Class E ‘Commercial Business and Service’.  This new class covers a wide range of uses including: retail, financial and professional services, cafés and restaurants (currently A1-A3); offices, research and development and light industrial (currently B1); clinics, health centres and nurseries (currently D1) and indoor sport and recreation (currently D2).

Two other new use classes were introduced: Class F.1 (Learning and non-residential institutions) which previously sat within use class D1, and F.2 (Local community) which previously sat within use class D2.

As we expected there are some exclusions from Class E to protect uses with community value for example ‘cinemas and bingo halls’ (currently D2) and also to prevent unrestricted conversion to those uses with potential negative externalities, for example drinking establishments (currently A4) and ‘hot food takeaways’ (currently A5). These now fall within Sui Generis use and will need planning permission for change of use to or from.

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This new system allows landlords, and tenants to a degree, to keep pace with our changing retail and leisure market; enabling redundant retail accommodation to be repurposed into a viable alternative use.  Landlords benefit, being able to pick and choose the most valuable use for their property.  However, whilst many positive changes have already been witnessed, concerns remain regarding such an open policy reducing the range of services on our high streets in the long term.

Local authorities have always previously retained an element of power to influence the use class of a building.  When the government announced, in 2015, that office buildings could automatically be converted into residential accommodation through Permitted Development Rights we saw the subsequent introduction of Article 4 Directions which provided localised powers to prevent such conversion and protect employment areas.  Whilst local authorities have not yet tried to soften the impact of this new legislation, we have no doubt that many councils will want some input in shaping their built environment in the medium and long term.

We live in a dynamic country with changing consumer and occupier habits.  Our built environment needs to keep pace with these changes and this new use class system has provided us with a suitable framework.  It has removed red tape, increased flexibility of land use and allows the repurposing of redundant buildings.  This can only be a good thing for our economy, particularly during challenging economic times in the post pandemic era.   We anticipate, however,  that some local authorities may seek to impose restrictions to protect amongst others, core employment areas and prime retail pitches.

Gareth Hosgood
Partner, Commercial Valuation

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If you are interested in knowing more about Use Class Order and how it relates to valuations then please get in touch with Gareth

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