The Government has introduced wide ranging reforms to the planning system which will soon allow premises to change freely between various ‘Town Centre’ uses.
The introduction of a new use class on 1st September 2020 will combine the following uses, meaning there will be no need for planning permission if you want to change from one to the other:
- A1 (shops);
- A2 (financial/professional services);
- A3 (restaurants/cafes);
- B1(a) (offices);
- B1 (b) (research/development);
- B1 (c) (light industrial);
- D1 (health services/clinics/creches/day centres); and
- D2* (gyms/indoor recreation).
*some activities currently included in the D2 use class will become Sui Generis.
Thus a conversion from a shop to a dental surgery, or gym to a restaurant can take place without seeking planning permission for the change of use. Of course, any other planning consents regarding building, advertising or licensing, for example, remain in place.
The changes will, in effect, introduce a laissez-faire planning regime in Town Centres. This will address a key concern held by landlords and operators in recent years by enabling the ready conversion of redundant shop space to other uses – uses that will increase footfall in the Town Centre.
Importantly, pubs (A4), hot food takeaways, (A5), live music venues, cinemas, bingo halls (D2), betting shops and casinos have all become Sui Generis. This means that the activity does not fall within any use class and any change to another use, including another Sui Generis activity, will require full planning permission.
Current Permitted Development Rights which relate to changes between existing use classes -where the two use classes in question are not both to be subsumed under Class E – will remain active until 1st July 2021 whilst changes to reflect the recent amendments are investigated.
So does all this mean you will not need to submit planning applications for your change within the E use class? Not necessarily.
The above regime changes will allow the use of the property to change without permission but this does not provide the go-ahead for any physical development. For example, an A1 to A3 change of use will almost always require the installation of a kitchen ventilation system and this must be the subject of a planning application and noise assessment.
Regardless of whether any physical works are being undertaken, we strongly recommend that any “changes of use” within the new E use class are confirmed to be lawful by a Certificate of Lawfulness. This certificate will provide formal confirmation that the new use of your property is lawful, does not require planning permission and cannot be enforced against.
A Certificate of Lawfulness is invaluable as it is your best protection against any future changes to the local or national planning context which might result in you being forced to return the site to its previous use.
For example, local councils have the ability to introduce Article 4 directions which remove Permitted Development Rights from certain buildings or areas. Article 4 directions are a well-used planning tool which councils have exploited in the recent past to prevent permitted changes between, for example, offices and dwellings. If an Article 4 direction is introduced in your area, you’ll want to be in possession of formal confirmation (via a Certificate of Lawfulness) that your change of use occurred before it took effect. Without this, you’re likely to find yourself at risk of costly enforcement action and might ultimately be required to reinstate your property to its former use.
A nightmare scenario could see the owner of a site change its use from an office to a health centre, investing a lot of money in this change but without taking the step of formally confirming its lawfulness via a straightforward and inexpensive Certificate of Lawfulness application. If the council then introduced an Article 4 direction which prevented such a change, they could take enforcement action against the site owner. Unless the site owner could definitively prove that the change of use had occurred before the Article 4 direction took effect, they would almost certainly be required to return the site to its former use as an office. Of course, this could all have been avoided if the site owner had simply applied for a Certificate of Lawfulness at the time of making their change.
A Certificate of Lawfulness is the best protection against potential future enforcement action and will also prevent any uncertainties over the property’s lawful use at the point of its lease or sale.
Read the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020 here.