Major Changes to the Use Class System Come into Force this Week

Major Changes to the Use Class System, in an attempt to revive the High Street, come into force this week. The legalisation was laid before parliament on 21st July, with the changes coming into force on 1st September 2020 with a number of significant changes to the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987.

Summary of the changes

The changes are quite complex, presumably due to the need to include provisions to ensure a reasonably smooth transition to the revised Use Classes, however a broad summary is provided below.

Parts A and D of the original Schedule to the Use Class Order are revoked which abolishes Use Classes A1, A2, A3, A4 and A5 and Classes D1 and D2.  Class B1 is also abolished. These are all replaced by new Use Classes in Schedule 2:

  • Class E (Commercial, business and service) – including retail, restaurant, office, financial/professional services, indoor sports, medical and nursery uses along with “any other services which it is appropriate to provide in a commercial, business or service locality”;
  • Class F.1 (Learning and non-residential institutions) – including non-residential educational uses, and use as a museum, art gallery, library, public hall, religious institution or law court; and
  • Class F.2 (Local community) – including use as a shop of no more than 280 sqm mostly selling essential goods, including food and at least 1km from another similar shop, and use as a community hall, area for outdoor sport, swimming pool or skating rink.

Other uses including pubs, wine bars and drinking establishments, pubs with expanded food provision, hot food takeaways, live music venues, cinemas, concert, bingo and dance halls are all added to the list of sui generis uses.

Implications

Changes of use within this new Class E will not constitute development at all (as opposed to permitted development). This new flexibility is not linked to spatial considerations and therefore will apply both to high streets and all town centre uses located outside of centres. It thus has the potential to result in the introduction of non-office type activities (including retail) in traditional out of centre business parks, which runs contrary to current national and local planning policies designed to protect town centre retail.

Significantly, the changes will make current shop frontage planning policies obsolete, thus reducing the local planning authorities’ ability to control the mix of uses.  This ‘left to the open market’ approach aims to promote vitality and viability of town centres by allowing for a greater and more ‘reactionary’ movement between uses.  It therefore allows for the repurposing of retail uses to other uses which may have historically been resisted.  However, it remains to be seen whether these changes will have any unintended harmful impacts upon the town centre.

The changes also seek to protect “community assets” (such as pubs, music venues and cinemas) by taking them out of the “classes” and making them “sui generis”, meaning that planning permission would be needed to change to a different use.

It should be noted that from this week new planning applications (including variations and reserved matters approvals) will also be determined by reference to the new Use Classes. The previous Use Classes will, however, remain relevant for certain change of use permitted development rights until 31 July 2021.

 

These changes represent the most fundamental change in town centre planning for over 30 years. Should you require any more information regarding these amendments, please do not hesitate to contact us for further advice.

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