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Planning use classes and permitted changes

clothes shop

Article written by Gary Cousins of Cousins Business Law

One of the most misunderstood areas of planning law is use classes and how to go about changing them.

Before you buy or rent a commercial property you should always check with the local planning authority what its authorised use is.

Before you buy or rent a commercial property you should always check with the local planning authority what its authorised use is

A property can be licensed for a multitude of uses, and switching from one to another may or may not require planning permission.

The most common use classes are as follows:

  • A1 - Shops
  • A2 - Financial and Professional Services
  • A3 - Restaurants and Cafes
  • A4 - Drinking Establishments
  • A5 - Hot Food Takeaways
  • B1 - Business
  • B2 - General Industry
  • B8 - Storage and Distribution
  • C1 - Hotels
  • C2 - Residential Institutions
  • C3 - Dwelling Houses
  • D1 - Non-Residential Institutions
  • D2 - Assembly and Leisure

Confusingly, these general classes encompass a range of specific uses.

For example, 'B1 - Business' covers offices that don't fall within 'A2 - Financial and Professional Services', such as research and development, studios, laboratories, high technology and light industry.

If you have any doubts about which class your specific use falls, then contact your local planning authority.

Being able to change use class without having to make a planning application obviously saves you time and effort.

These are the use classes where a change of class is permitted without a planning application:

  • A2 - Permitted change to A1 where a ground floor display window exists
  • A3 - Permitted change to A1 or A2
  • A4 - Permitted change to A1, A2 or A3
  • A5 - Permitted change to A1, A2 or A3
  • B1 - Permitted change to B8 where no more than 235sq m
  • B2 - Permitted change to B1 or B8 (B8 limited to 235sq m)
  • B8 - Permitted change to B1 where no more than 235sq m

Some uses are described by solicitors as sui generis (they can't resist using a bit of Latin).

The literal translation is 'of its own kind', meaning it applies to uses that don't fall within any of the other use classes.

Examples of sui generis uses include the sale of motor vehicles, launderettes, petrol filling stations, theatres and nightclubs.

If your use is sui generis then unless you're taking over premises which already have specific planning permission for that use, you'll always need planning permission before commencing trading.

Your solicitor should advise you on any planning consent issues before you commit to purchasing any commercial property.

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