Major changes to the Use Class Order in an attempt to revive the High Street

22 July 2020

Yesterday, (21st July) the Government laid before Parliament legislation to amend the Use Classes Order (UCO). This legislation, which will come into force on 1st September, aims to revive the vitality of the High Street in England.

Secretary of State, Rt Hon Jenrick MP, tweeted about these changes confirming;

Today I have introduced new laws to support the recovery and reimagination of our high streets and towns. As we protect and grow our economy post #COVID19, we must think flexibly about how best to support our high streets and town centres.

The regulations, which can be found on the link below, will come into force on 1st September 2020.

The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020

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.  

Summary of the changes

Parts A and D of the original Schedule to the UCO 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 which are summarised below.

In essence, the changes provide for three new Use Classes: Class E (Commercial, business and service), Class F.1 (Learning and non-residential institutions) and F.2 (Local community).

The new Class E (Commercial, business and service users) will combine the following existing classes:

  • Shops (formerly A1)
  • Financial/professional services (formerly A2)
  • Cafés/restaurants (formerly A3)
  • Indoor sports/fitness (formerly D2 part)
  • Medical health facilities (formerly D1 part)
  • Creche/nurseries/day centre (formerly D1(b))
  • Office/business uses (formerly B1 (a))
  • Research and development of products or processes (formerly B1 (b))
  • Any industrial process (formerly B1 -c )

This will mean that planning permission will no longer be required to change between these types of use as they will all fall under the same use class, allowing for greater flexibility.

A new Class F1 will comprise those parts of the current Class D1 which are not incorporated into the new Class E.  This includes education, non-commercial galleries, museums, libraries, public halls, places of worship, and law courts.

A new Class F2 is created for community uses. This will include small shops (shops selling essentials of less than 280m over 1km from the nearest similar shop), local community halls, swimming pools and outdoor recreation areas not involving motorised vehicles or firearms.

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.  This means that now each of these uses is a sui generis use, a change of use from one of these uses to another use, even though it was formerly within the same Use Class, will from 1st September  constitute development and will require planning permission.

Implications

The most significant effect of the amendment to the Use Classes is to produce much larger classes of uses are covered by Classes E, F1 and F2. The amendments therefore allow such a broader range of uses to change to another use within the particular class without planning consent.

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; for example could an out of town office development be converted to a retail use, thus detracting from the vitality of the town centre? Arguably however, these changes reflect the view that the town centre will, in the not too distant future, no longer be the dominated by retail uses.

We anticipate that these changes will be welcomed by many landlords with current vacant premises and will also have impacts on valuation, the wider letting, leasing and asset management strategies.

In combination, 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 our planning consultants who will be able to advise further.