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A new planning use class

Regulations published in July 2020 include provisions that will give greater flexibility to property owners and occupiers to change the use of a property without the need to obtain planning permission. The Regulations will take effect from 1 September 2020.

The Town and Country (Use Classes) Order 1987 (UCO) groups similar uses together within planning “classes” A to E and is significant as the use of a property can be changed within each use class without the need to obtain planning permission. If a use is sui generis (doesn’t fall within a particular use class) the use cannot be changed without planning permission.

Key changes to UCO

The changes to UCO will see:

  • The revocation of established use classes A1 to A5 (shops, cafes and takeaways) and D1 and D2 (non-residential institutions and assembly and leisure).
  • The modification of class B to remove class B1 (business).
  • The creation of a new much larger use class E (commercial, business and services) which will include uses as diverse as shops, financial, restaurants and business in one flexible use class.
  • The creations of new classes F1 (learning and non-residential institutions) and F2 (local community).
  • The creation of new sui generis uses.

Further details of the new use classes are set out in the tables below.

These changes are aimed at assisting the Government to achieve its policy objective to rejuvenate, and safeguard the viability and vitality of the country's town centres and high streets. In particular:

  • Rejuvenation: Traditional high street occupiers such as shops and offices will have the flexibility to change use within the broad new class E.
  • Protection of community assets: In contrast, community assets such as small village stores and meeting places will be given protection by the new class F2.
  • Control over other uses: Other uses such as pubs, music venues and cinemas will be removed from the classes altogether and added to the list of sui generis uses, making a change of use impossible without planning permission.

New Class E

The new Class E (commercial, business and service) will be for the use, or part use, for all or any of the following purposes:

The display or retail sale of goods, other than hot food, principally to visiting members of the public.
b The sale of food and drink principally to visiting members of the public where consumption of that food and drink is mostly undertaken on the premises.
c The provision of the following kinds of services principally to visiting members of the public (i) financial services, (ii) professional services (other than health or medical services), or (iii) any other services which it is appropriate to provide in a commercial, business or service locality.
d Indoor sport, recreation or fitness, not involving motorised vehicles or firearms, principally to visiting members of the public.
e Medical or health services, principally to visiting members of the public, except the use of premises attached to the residence of the consultant or practitioner,
f Crèche, day nursery or day centre, not including a residential use, principally to visiting members of the public.
g Office to carry out any operational or administrative functions. Research and development of products or processes. Any industrial process. In each case being a use which can be carried out in any residential area without detriment to the amenity of that area by reason of noise, vibration, smell, fumes, smoke, soot, ash, dust or grit.

Transitional provisions will apply and buildings or other land being used for A1, A2, A3 or B1 as at 31 August 2020 will, with effect from 1 September 2020 be treated as falling within the new class E.

New Classes F1 and F2

New Classes F1 and F2 will replace the current class D1 (non-residential institutions) and D2 (assembly and leisure).

Class F1: Learning and non-residential institutions

Class F1 will apply to the following uses, not including residential use:

a Education
b Display of works of art (otherwise than for sale or hire)
c Museum
d Public library or public reading room
e Public hall or exhibition hall
f Public worship or religious instruction
g Law court

Class F2: Local community

Class F2 will apply to the following uses:

a A shop mostly selling essential goods, including food, to visiting members of the public in circumstances where the shop’s premises cover an area not more than 280 metres square, and there is no other such facility within a 1,000-metre radius of the shop's location.
A hall or meeting place for the principal use of the local community.
c An area or place for outdoor sport or recreation, not involving motorised vehicles or firearms.
d An indoor or outdoor swimming pool or skating rink.

New sui generis uses

The following uses will be added to the list of sui generis uses (in a class of their own):

Public house, wine bar or drinking establishment (currently Class A4)
Drinking establishment with expanded food provision (currently mixed use of Class A4 with Class A3)
Hot food takeaway for the sale of hot food where consumption of that food is mostly undertaken off the premises (currently Class A5)
Venue for live music performance
Cinema (currently Class D2)
Concert hall (currently Class D2)
Bingo hall (currently Class D2)
Dance hall (currently Class D2).

Changes to the UCO in practice

Existing leases will, in most instances, refer to a permitted use by reference to the UCO as current at the date of the lease. The changes to the UCO will not therefore impact on the continued use of the premises.

It is expected that new leases will remove references to the UCO altogether and refer instead to a specific use, such as retail or office. If there is a need to refer to the UCO then, given the wide range of uses contained within the new class E, it would be wise to refer to a specific sub-class within the new class E.

Whilst the change of use within a use class will undoubtedly be easier given the wide range of uses in the new class E, if such a change of use also requires building works, planning permission and building regulation, approval may still be required and article 4 directions (limiting the change of use within use classes in specific areas) may also apply.

It remains to be seen if the changes will assist plans to rejuvenate the British economy as envisaged by Prime Minister Boris Johnson with the launch of his "build, build, build" strategy earlier this year.

11 August 2020

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