If you are looking to convert an existing commercial building (E) to a place of worship (F1), this page provides some helpful planning advice. 

“Commercial” buildings (E) include all of the following:

  • Retail shops
  • Offices
  • Banks, estate agents
  • Hairdressing salons (not beauty salons)
  • Medical and health services/clinics
  • Childcare services (e.g. creches)
  • Cafes and restaurants (not pubs)
  • Light industrial (e.g. small vehicle repair shops, research facilities)
  • Gyms and indoor sports venues.

A place of worship means a building used for religious services. It could be a temple, church, mosque or synagogue etc.  All places of worship belong to use class F1 “Learning and non-residential institutions”. This use class also includes schools, art galleries, public libraries and museums. 

Do I need planning permission to convert my commercial property (E) to a place of worship (F1)?

The change of use of any site or building from commercial (E) to place of worship (F1) will require formal planning permission. 

This means you will need to submit a full planning application to your Local Planning Authority (this is normally your local council). Your Local Planning Authority (LPA) will then assess your planning application and either approve or refuse it. 

In assessing your planning application, the LPA will take account of their local planning policies and any other “material planning considerations” – find out more about these here

Although the content of local planning policies will vary, there are certain key planning issues that almost always apply when considering the change of use of a commercial property to a place of worship anywhere in England. These are discussed below. 

What are the key planning issues? 

Local planning policies will vary and it is important that your planning application is designed to meet the policies in force in your local area. There are, however, a number of key planning issues that will almost always apply to the proposed change of use of a commercial property to a place of worship, no matter where the site is located. 

It is worth noting that many of these issues will apply to the change of use of any existing building – commercial or otherwise – to a place of worship. 

These are:

Effect on character and appearance

“Character and appearance” is the way a place looks, functions and “feels”. 

This includes its buildings (size, height, architecture etc.), its layout (e.g. are buildings close together or far apart?), its uses and activities (e.g. is it a busy town centre or a quiet residential street?).

When it comes to a change of use from commercial to place of worship, the LPA will mainly be concerned with the:

  • Effects of physical development including new signage and lighting. Is it designed and constructed to a high quality? Is it “in keeping” with the building and surrounding area’s established character and appearance? For example, does new signage follow the style, position and materials of existing commercial signage in the area? Is external lighting sensitively designed and discreetly located? 
  • Effects of the place of worship’s daily operation. For example, would it create noise or disturbance (including as a result of traffic and parking) that is inappropriate to the location? Would it be open much earlier or much later than other public sites in the area? Would it make a quiet or mainly residential area much busier?

Effect on parking and highways 

The LPA will consider whether there is enough parking available for the place of worship’s staff and congregation. This could be dedicated/private parking or shared/public car parking, as long as there are enough spaces to meet the parking needs of the place of worship in addition to the needs of any existing businesses and/or houses in the area. 

Some LPAs have detailed parking standards that tell you the minimum number of parking spaces different sites/buildings (such as commercial buildings and places of worship) should have available. 

In most cases, LPAs will expect you to comply with their minimum parking standards. However, exceptions are frequently made in the following circumstances:

  • The site is in a town centre or other “highly sustainable” location (e.g. lots of pavements and very good access to public transport); or
  • The existing parking situation would not be made worse (e.g. there is currently a deficit of 5 spaces for a commercial use of the building and the deficit for a place of worship use of the building would also be 5 spaces or fewer).

In other cases, you should work out minimum parking needs based on the practical requirements of the place of worship. If, for example, you are moving from another location in the area, you can estimate parking requirements based on the number of daily/weekly services and the number of existing attendees. For example, if you have a Wednesday service from 10-11 am that is led by 2 people and attended by around 12 people, you should normally ensure there are at least 14 parking spaces available for your use every Wednesday from around 9.45-11.15 am. 

In terms of effects on highways (roads), the LPA will need to be satisfied that the change of use of the building will not cause harm to their safety or proper functioning. This includes consideration of the following matters:

  • Will there be a significant increase in traffic?
  • Will there be a significant increase in on-road parking (and can the road sustain that)?
  • Will there be an increased risk of conflict between drivers and pedestrians?

Sustainability & accessibility

Although you must ensure there is enough car parking, the LPA will also expect that opportunities are available for staff and congregation to make use of sustainable transport modes. Sustainable transport modes include walking, cycling and public transport. 

A place of worship is a valued community facility and so the LPA will expect it to be located where  the local community (and any existing congregation) can easily access it. Ideally, it should be at the heart of a city, town or village, near its shops and bus stops etc. 

A “best case scenario” is one where the place of worship is located within walking distance of the majority of its congregation – you can work this out by drawing an 800m radius around the building. 

Effect on residential amenities

The LPA will need to be satisfied that the use of the building as a place of worship would not cause unacceptable harm to any nearby residential properties. In the case of high street buildings, this could include residential flat/s located directly above the commercial unit. The LPA will be concerned about all kinds of disturbance, although mainly noise and vibrations. 

Effect on the local economy and existing businesses

The LPA will consider the effect of the change of use on the local economy and any existing businesses. They will likely pay particular attention to the following matters:

  • Does the change of use result in the loss of a commercial use that the LPA is keen to protect? Some LPAs have policies to resist the loss of certain commercial premises such as offices, retail shops and/or light industrial units.
  1. Would the place of worship disturb or disrupt existing businesses OR be disturbed or disrupted by them? There may be circumstances where existing businesses or services would be harmed by the introduction of a new place of worship next door. For example, certain commercial premises (e.g. funeral homes, some health clinics) might be seriously harmed by noise and vibrations if religious services are likely to feature loud music. Similarly, LPAs often resist the introduction of places of worship to busy industrial estates where there is a lot of noise, heavy vehicles, dust and pollution. 

Effect on heritage assets 

If the building is listed (including locally listed), in or adjacent to a Conservation Area OR close to a listed building (including locally listed), the LPA is obliged to consider the effect of the change of use on the affected assets’ heritage value. Permission for the change of use will normally only be provided if the effect on heritage assets is beneficial or neutral. 

In these circumstances, your planning application should include a proportionate assessment of the affected heritage assets’ significance, including an assessment of the likely impact of the proposed change of use.

What do I need to submit with my change of use planning application?

Your planning application for a change of use of a commercial property (E) to a place of worship (F1) should normally include:

  1. Application form;
  2. Planning, design & access statement/s; and
  3. Suite of relevant planning drawings:
  • Site location plan
  • Block plan
  • Existing and proposed floorplans
  • Existing and proposed elevations.

Other requirements will vary depending on the LPA and its local policies, the site/location and the physical changes required (if any). For example:

  • If the change of use requires the new installation of external lights and signage, the LPA is likely to request detailed specifications and drawings of these features;
  • If the change of use is located very close to existing residential properties, the LPA may require a Noise Impact Assessment;
  • If the change of use is in an area with high parking pressures, lots of traffic and/or substandard roads, the LPA may request a Transport Statement. 

How can Planning Direct assist with my change of use application?

Planning Direct can assist you with all aspects of your change of use planning application, from start to finish. Our “comprehensive package” includes the following services:

  • design guidance
  • planning drawings
  • planning, design & access statement; and 
  • case management*. 

*this means we will submit the planning application on your behalf and then act as your agent throughout the process, liaising with the LPA until a decision is reached. 

You can find more information about these services here.

If you don’t require a comprehensive package (for example, because you are providing your own drawings), we can provide a bespoke selection of the above services at a reduced cost.

In the event that any supplementary reports are required (such as a Noise Impact Assessment, Transport Statement etc.), we can either produce these in-house or commission them from an external provider on your behalf. We will always agree this with you beforehand. 

Planning Direct will ensure that your planning, design & access statement is carefully crafted to address all relevant local planning policies and all relevant planning issues (such as those described above). 

How much will it cost?

There are two main expenses that you need to take into account:

  1. Preparation and submission of the planning application (including drawings, written statement, case management etc.); and
  2. Application fee payable to the LPA.

Currently, the application fee for a change of use of a commercial property (E) to a place of worship (F1) in England is £462*. 

*please be aware that although we make every effort to keep our website up-to-date, application fees do change occasionally and you should always check the fees in place at the time of making your application. 

At Planning Direct, fees for a comprehensive change of use planning application start from £1195.

Please be aware that in certain circumstances the LPA may request supplementary reports (such as a Noise Impact Assessment, Transport Statement etc.) which will attract additional fees. 

Broadly speaking, the fewer physical alterations you need to make to the building in order to change its use to a place of worship, the less the cost of the planning application overall. 

Although you are entitled to prepare and submit your own planning application, employing a good planning consultant can save you money in the long run. This is partly because there are various technical requirements that your application must meet in order to even be considered by the LPA. For example, planning drawings must be drawn to particular scales and show specific site/locational features. If it takes you multiple attempts to get this right, you could spend more money overall. 

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