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Planning law changes after the pandemic

Posted by Joshua Atkinson on 1st September 2020

As the Government continues to look for new ways to stimulate the economy and, in particular, the commercial property market following the Coronavirus pandemic, there has been a significant change in planning law through alterations to the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987, as amended (“Use Classes Order”).

In a move designed to maximise flexibility, the Government has announced that it will reform the Use Classes Order for commercial properties.

From 1st September 2020 Use Classes A1, A2, A3, B1, D1 and D2 will be replaced by a single new Use Class E ‘Commercial Business and Service’. The new Class E will be a broader class than the six it replaces, covering:

  • Retail
  • Financial and professional services
  • Cafés and restaurants
  • Offices
  • Research and development
  • Light industrial
  • Clinics, health centres and nurseries
  • Indoor sport and recreation

Two new classes, Class F1 (Learning and non-residential institutions) and F2 (Local community) will be introduced alongside Class E.

The motivation behind the Use Class shake-up is to increase flexibility and reduce delay in the planning system. The new broader Use Classes will allow landlords and commercial property owners to quickly and much more flexibility change the planning use of commercial property within the umbrella of Class E. Under the existing system a property owner wanting to change the permitted use of their property between the different uses that will now be in Class E would generally have to apply for planning permission and thus become subject to the time frame and scrutiny of the planning process. The government plans aim to drastically reduce ‘red tape’ by reducing the number of useful changes for which a planning application will be required.

Under Class E changing use will be swifter and more flexible. It will (hopefully) allow property used for declining purposes, such as retail, to morph into a more buoyant market like flexi office space for meetings and hot-desking, allowing property to keep pace with fluid market demands.

Providing a base for a flexible change of use should have wider economic impacts. Landlords will only change the use of their premises in line with consumer trends and, as such, any change of use is likely to be consumer influenced. It is envisaged this planning change will allow for local commercial properties to better serve the local demands of consumers, with long term economic benefits to local areas and high streets, including reducing the prevalence of unlet and unused properties.

In July the government announced a ‘fast track approval scheme’ for residential property owners wishing to build up to two additional storeys on their existing property. Find out about the scheme here.

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