All change for the use classes order

23 July 2020

It will take some time for the details of the new legislation to settle in practice, but it will be difficult to see how any local planning authorities’ threshold policies – which limit the types of uses available for certain uses on the high street – can be applied from now on.

Helen Cuthbert Director London

Last month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out the first steps in his strategy to rebuild Britain and fuel economic recovery. His five key points included reforms to the planning system and we're guessing he must have read Katie Turvey's article from 28 May 2020, because he confirmed new regulations will give greater freedom for buildings and land in town centres to change use without planning permission. Perhaps my colleagues and I should be careful what we wish for as we've spent the day poring over the details contained within the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment)(England) Regulations 2020, which were published late yesterday.

The Amendment is a major piece of deregulation,rushed through parliament, to aid the recovery of town centres hit by COVID-19 and our growing passion for online shopping. Bypassing the many policies in local plans that seek to protect retail uses and carefully manage the mix of uses on the high street,this significant piece of legislation will positively enable the flexible use of high street units.

Key points&nbsp to note include:

  • The Amendments laid before parliament yesterday apply to England only. We expect that Wales will introduce its own amendments in due course.
  • The changes come into effect from 1 September 2020.
  • In simple terms, the previous Class A1 (shops), A2 (financial and professional services), A3 (restaurants and cafés) and Class B1 (business), are to be grouped together into a new Use Class – Class E (commercial, business and service).
  • In addition, uses such as gyms, nurseries and health centres (previously Class D1) and non-residential institutions, such as assembly and leisure (previously Class D2) are also now included within the new Class E.

This means that with effect from 1 September, building or land currently within Classes A1-A3, B1, D1 and D2 use will no longer require planning permission to be changed for another use within the new Class E.

As you would expect, there are some exceptions.

  • Former Class D1 and D2 uses that are not included within the new Class E (and will therefore continue to require a change of use permission) include: 
  • Small-scale shops (up to 280sqm, located 1000 metres or more from another retail unit), schools, libraries and art galleries, swimming pools, skating rinks and areas for outdoor sports. These are now included within two new Use Classes (F1 and F2). 
  • Drinking establishments (formerly Class A4) and hot food takeaways (formerly Class A5), together with cinemas, concert, dance and bingo halls (formerly within Class D2) are removed from the defined use classes, and will therefore require permission for any material change of use. 
  • Where relevant, any Article 4 Directions imposed by an LPA and controlling changes of use within specific areas will remain in force. 
  • Restrictive conditions already in place through relevant permissions (and S106 agreements) will remain in force. 
  • Where relevant, planning permission will still be required for external alterations. 

It will take some time for the details of the new legislation to settle in practice, but it will be difficult to see how any local planning authorities’ threshold policies – which limit the types of uses available for certain uses on the high street – can be applied from now on. Demands and activities on our high street are changing and, combined with this new legislation, such policies must be considered out of date.?

The legislation will also mean that new restaurants will not have to comply with conditions on opening hours or delivery / refuse management plans, as switching between uses will not need permission. Major changes to the town centre mix will now be driven entirely by the market. We expect to see more gyms, beauticians, cafés and other uses, where online shopping cannot replicate the service offered. This is a laissez faire policy approach, of a type not seen for many decades, and it will take a little time for us all to understand the implications. We are hopeful that it will boost activity on our high streets, encouraging the occupation of vacant units and offering opportunity to a greater variety of businesses.

We will circulate additional information about reforms to the planning system over the coming days and weeks. Please let us know if you have any questions in the meantime.

Helen Cuthbert is a Director and Founder of Planning Potential. For further advice on what the changes mean for you or your business, get in touch on 020 7357 8000 or [email protected]