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What’s the use? Use Classes Order changes: September 1

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The Government has proposed the most radical shake up to the planning use classes since the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 was introduced. The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020 come into effect on 1 September.

A new Class E (commercial, business and service);

this will merge existing Class A1 (shops), A2 (financial and professional services), A3 (restaurants and cafes) and Class B1 (business). Uses such as gyms, nurseries and health centres (previously in use classes D1 Non-residential institutions and D2 Assembly and leisure) and other uses which are suitable for a town centre area are also included in this class.

The explanatory memorandum to the Order states that this new class allows for a mix of uses to reflect changing retail and business models. It recognises that a building may be in a number of uses concurrently, or that a building may be used for different uses at different times of the day. Changes to another use, or mix of uses, within this class do not require planning permission.

Bringing these uses together and allowing movement between them will give businesses greater freedom to adapt to changing circumstances and to respond more quickly to the needs of their communities.

A new Class F1 (learning and non-residential institutions);

this incorporates those uses from the former D1 Non-residential institutions use class which are more likely to involve buildings which are regularly in wider public use, such as schools, libraries and art galleries.

A new Class F2 (local community);

this groups together those uses from the former D2 use class which provide for group activities of a more physical nature – swimming pools, skating rinks and areas for outdoor sports. It also includes the use of buildings where this is principally by the local community.

The explanatory memorandum explains that this class also recognises the importance of small, local shops in meeting the day to day shopping needs of local communities, particularly in rural communities, large residential estates and outside main shopping areas generally.

Therefore, alongside community social facilities, the F2 class includes what would be considered shops servicing the essential needs of local communities. This is defined as a shop mostly for the sale of a range of essential dry goods and food, to visiting members of the public where there is no commercial class retail unit within 1000 metres and the shop area is no larger than 280m2.

This provides some protection for such shops while placing those shops found on high streets and town centres in the new ‘commercial’ class.

Pubs (Class A4), takeaways (A5) and cinemas, concert halls, bingo and dance halls (D2);

these have been given greater protection and will become “sui generis” i.e. a class of their own, which means that planning permission will be required to change to and from these uses.

The residential (C classes), General industrial (B2) and Storage and distribution (B8) use classes;

these remain unchanged (except for a new cross reference in B2 to the new ‘commercial’ class).

Comment

The nature of the UK high street is changing rapidly and there has been a huge shift to online sales in recent months due to the pandemic. The Government is in favour of a market-led approach, to provide the flexibility for businesses to adapt and diversify to meet changing demands but this will mean that local planning authorities will have much less control over commercial uses.

Concerns have been raised about the possible unplanned consequences of the proposals on town centre uses, which could see a significant reduction in the variety of uses and types of occupier,  without the diversity  which tends to  attract consumers to town centres.

Carter Jonas estimate that circa 200 million sq ft of retail and office space could potentially be transferred to the new Class E, over 30 town centres, so whilst this will allow a mix of uses to reflect changing retail and business models, there could be less choice for consumers or just more of the same types of shops as LPAs have less control over primary and secondary shopping frontages and the mix of uses. We are likely to see more restrictive planning conditions as a move by LPAs to take back control but one thing is for certain, the high street and the shopping experience as we know it will look and feel very different going forward.