The change of use of commercial premises to places of worship is something we handle frequently here at Planning Direct. If you’re looking to convert your commercial site to a place of worship, this page provides some helpful planning advice.
Want to find out more about other popular changes of use? Follow the links below.
Apply for planning permission
If you’d like to convert a class E commercial property* to a place of worship, you first need to secure planning permission for a change of use. The change of use will be from use class E to use class F1**.
This means you need to submit a planning application to your Local Planning Authority (this is normally your local council). Your council will then assess your planning application and either approve or refuse it.
Click the link below to find out more about change of use planning applications, including what they are and what the different use classes include.
If you’re looking for some general information about planning applications – including what you need to submit, what the fees are and how long they take – follow the link below.
*What is a class E commercial property?
Most types of commercial properties are in use class “E”, including:
- medical centres
- hair salons.
**What is use class F1?
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.
How do I improve the chances of my planning application being approved?
When they assess your planning application, your council has to take account of their local planning policies and any other material planning considerations.
Material planning considerations
Material planning considerations are matters in addition to planning policies that your council can and should take into account when they assess planning applications. In fact, there is a rule in planning that allows your council to approve development in conflict with their planning policies if they are satisfied that material planning considerations support this. Material planning considerations include things like road safety, previous planning decisions, privacy and nature conservation. Click the button below to find out more about material planning considerations.
Local planning policies
Although the content of local planning policies will vary, there are certain key planning issues that most – if not all – councils in England and Wales will take into account when they consider an application for the change of use of a commercial property to a place of worship. These are discussed below.
If your change of use is acceptable in relation to these key issues, it’s very likely that it would comply with local planning policies. However, you should always check your local planning policies to make sure.
If you instruct Planning Direct to submit your change of use planning application, we’ll conduct this research on your behalf.
Key planning issues
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.
No matter where your commercial property is located, however, your local council will almost certainly take the following key planning issues into account when considering its change of use to a place of worship:
Effect on character and appearance
“Character and appearance” is the way a place looks, functions and feels.
- its buildings – for example, what is their size and style?
- its layout – for example, are buildings close together or far apart? And where do cars park?
- its uses – for example, is it mainly residential, commercial or a mix?
- its type and amount of activity – for example, is it a busy town centre or a quiet village street?
When it comes to a change of use from commercial (class E) to a place of worship, your council will mainly be concerned about:
The effect of physical changes, especially external
Physical changes include things like new signage, lights and parking areas. Your council will ask:
- are physical changes designed and constructed to a high quality?
- are they “in keeping” with the building and surrounding area? For example, does new signage follow the style, position and materials of existing commercial signage along the street? If there are already similar features in the area, your council is more likely to find the physical changes acceptable.
The effect of the place of worship’s regular operation
For example, would it create additional 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 roads
Your council will consider whether there is enough parking available for the place of worship’s employees and congregation.
This could be private parking or shared/public car parking.
All that matters is that there are enough parking spaces to meet the parking needs of the new place of worship as well as the needs of existing businesses and residents in the area.
Local parking standards
Some councils have detailed parking standards that tell you the minimum number of parking spaces different sites and buildings (such as commercial buildings and places of worship) should have available. These are often calculated based on the amount of floorspace.
In most cases, your council 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 urban location with lots of public transport, walking and cycling routes
- The existing parking situation would not be made worse. For example, if the existing commercial property has 5 spaces less than the standard and would still have 5 spaces less than the standard if its use was changed to a place of worship.
In terms of the effect on roads, your council will need to be satisfied that the change of use will not cause harm to their safety or the way they function. They will likely consider the following matters:
- Will there be a significant increase in traffic?
- Will there be a significant increase in on-road parking (and is the road suitable for that)?
- Will there be an increased risk of conflict between drivers and pedestrians?
Sustainability & accessibility
Although you must ensure there is enough car parking, your council 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.
In an ideal world, places of worship should be located within walking distance of the majority of their congregation. That’s normally 800 metres.
Effect on residential amenities
Your council will need to be satisfied that the use of the building as a place of worship wouldn’t cause unacceptable harm to nearby residential properties. In the case of high street buildings, this could include any residential flat(s) located directly above. Your council will be concerned about all kinds of disturbance but mainly noise, vibrations and vehicle movements.
Depending on the type of place of worship* and its proximity to residential properties, you may need to provide a noise impact assessment with your planning application.
*for example, is there likely to be loud music on a regular basis? And are noisier services held at an appropriate time of day?
Effect on the local economy and existing businesses
Your council will consider the effect of the change of use on the local economy and existing businesses. It is likely they will pay close attention to the following matters:
- Are you changing from a use that the council is trying to protect? Some councils have policies that resist the loss of certain commercial uses such as offices or retail shops to other uses.
- Would the place of worship cause disturbance or disruption to an existing business? Or is any existing business likely to cause disturbance or disruption to the place of worship? 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, more sensitive premises such as funeral homes or some health clinics might be seriously harmed by noise and vibrations if religious services are likely to feature loud music. Similarly, councils often refuse new places of worship in areas such as busy industrial estates where there is a lot of noise, heavy vehicles, dust and pollution.
Effect on heritage assets
If the change of use has the potential to affect a heritage asset*, your council is legally required to take this into consideration.
*When would my change of use have the potential to affect a heritage asset?
This is likely to be the case if:
- the building is listed (Grade I – II) or locally listed
- the building is close to one or more listed buildings
- the building is in or adjacent to a conservation area.
In these circumstances, permission for your change of use will normally only be granted if its effect on heritage assets is beneficial or neutral.
Your application must include a heritage impact assessment (HIA)
If your change of use has the potential to affect a heritage asset then your planning application must include a heritage impact assessment. A heritage impact assessment explains the significance of the affected heritage asset(s) and describes the likely impact of the change of use on this significance.
Heritage impact assessments should be proportionate to the scale and impact of a development. If your change of use is straightforward, it’s likely you’ll only need a basic heritage impact assessment. Click the button below to find out more.
What do I need to submit with my change of use planning application?
Your planning application for the change of use of a commercial property (class E) to a place of worship (class F1) should normally include:
- Application form
- Planning statement
- Planning drawings:
- Site location plan
- Block plan
- Existing and proposed floorplans
- Existing and proposed elevations.
Planning Direct can provide all of these documents either as part of our start-to-finish planning service or as one-off products. Click the links below to find out more.
Other requirements will vary depending on the site and its location, the type and amount of physical changes (if any), who your local council is and what their planning policies are. To help you, we’ve listed below some of the most commonly requested documents and explained when these are likely to be needed.
Detailed specs for new signage and external lights
If you need to install new signage or external lights, it’s likely your council will ask for detailed drawings and technical specs. For example, if the sign is illuminated, you must normally provide details of the amount of illumination and illumination levels (cd/m2).
Noise impact assessment
If the building is located close to residential properties or other noise-sensitive sites (such as certain health clinics), your council may require a noise impact assessment.
Heritage impact assessment
If the change of use has the potential to affect a heritage asset (more on this above), it’s likely your council will require a heritage impact assessment. Click the link below to find out all about Planning Direct’s competitively priced heritage impact assessments.
If the change of use is in an area with lots of traffic, lots of accidents, insufficient parking or substandard roads (etc.), your council may request a transport statement. Click the link below to find out more about Planning Direct’s travel plans and transport statements.
How can Planning Direct assist with my change of use application?
Start-to-finish planning service
Planning Direct can assist you with all aspects of your change of use application. Our start-to-finish planning service includes the following:
- design guidance
- planning drawings
- planning statement
- case management*.
*this means we will submit the planning application on your behalf and then act as your agent throughout the process, liaising with your council and any other parties until a decision is reached.
Follow the links below to find out more about these individual planning services.
As part of our start-to-finish planning service, we will also identify whether there is a need for additional reports or documents such as noise impact assessments, transport statements or heritage impact assessments. If these are required, we can either produce them in-house or commission them on your behalf. We will always discuss and agree this with you beforehand.
Follow the link below to find out more about how our external commissions work.
One-off planning services and products
However, not all of our clients require a start-to-finish service. For example, some already have drawings and others simply require a supporting statement* for an application that is already in progress.
*such as a planning statement, heritage impact assessment or transport statement.
For this reason, we offer all of our planning services as one-off products.
Contact us today to let us know exactly what you need and we’ll respond with a bespoke, no-obligation quotation. Our aim is to respond to all new enquiries within 1 working day and we rarely fail to achieve that!
How much will my change of use application cost?
There are two main expenses you’ll need to take into account. These are:
- The cost to prepare and submit the planning application
- The application fee which is payable to your local council.
Currently, the application fee for the change of use of a commercial property (class E) to a place of worship (class F1) in England is £462*. A small processing fee is added on top of this.
*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.
For the latest planning application fees, go to the government’s Planning Portal:
Planning Direct’s fees for a start-to-finish change of use planning service start from £1195.
Please be aware that in certain circumstances your local council may request additional reports** which will attract additional fees.
**such as a heritage impact assessment, noise impact assessment or transport statement.
How can I keep costs down?
Generally speaking, the fewer physical changes you need to make to the building, the cheaper the planning application.
You’re also entitled to prepare and submit your own planning applications and there is no obligation to employ a planning consultant. However, a good planning consultant can save you time and money in the long run. This is because there are many pitfalls in planning (technical and otherwise) that the average home or business owner cannot help but stumble into. For example, planning drawings must be drawn to particular scales and include specific features. If it takes you multiple attempts to get this right, you’re likely to spend more money overall.
At Planning Direct, our aim is always to secure our clients the best possible outcome at the lowest possible price. Contact us today to find out more about how we work and how we can help you to secure a commercial to place of worship change of use.