Planning for pubs – development and change of use

Click here for our latest projects involving pubs

We have noticed a significant increase in the number of clients that are enquiring about the possibilities of securing planning permission for a change of use of a public house to a residential dwelling (Use Class C3).  Equally, we are being increasingly approached by the owners of public houses who are looking at the possibilities of subdividing surplus land such as car parks and pub gardens to maximise the land value.

Change of use

Seeking to change the use of a public house does have its problems.  A public house is classed as a ‘community facility’ and Local Planning Authorities often seek to retain this type of use.  The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) further promotes the retention of such uses.

However, the sight of a boarded up public house is all too common and with approximately 8 public houses still closing everyday this sight is likely to increase.  The reason for the rapid rate of closure is a mixture of consumer confidence and the escalating price of stock, staff and rentals being charged by major breweries and suppliers. Plus the unprecedented impact of the ongoing pandemic.

The major stumbling block with such planning applications is justifying the loss of a ‘community use’. The majority of Councils across the UK will have a policy that seeks their retention unless it can be proven to be unviable and unjustifiable to retain. Such a policy often requires 6 to 18 months of marketing evidence proving that the premises are not suitable for retained public house use. Such policies can be overly restrictive, and we have used various strategies to overcome this delay. After all, the planning system is supposed to be dynamic and it is in no one’s interest for a pub to be sat vacant for 18 months.

Legislative changes

It is important to note that the “use class” of public houses has changed since 1st September 2020. These changes were enacted by the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020. Public Houses were previously in the A4 Use Class category but are now in a ‘Sui Generis’ category of their own. As with many big legislative change there is going to be a transitional period whereby, until 31st July 2021, planning applications can benefit from using both the old A4 Use Class or the new Sui Generis use class, despite the change in naming convention.

Can a pub be converted into another sui generis use?

The short answer is no, just because pubs have moved into this category, it does not mean that alternate uses can be found within the same category. Planning applications will still need to be made to convert a pub to other listed ‘sui generis’ uses, such as a beauticians or nightclub.

Retention of an alternative community use

Often local plan policies do not specifically seek to protect a pub use per se. Therefore, there can be scope to incorporate another commercial use. For instance, conversion of a pub to a shop with flats above.

Although watch out for Article 4 directives and whether the pub is on the local register of Assets of Community Value (ACV). Both could make changes of use more difficult to achieve.

Subdivision of surplus land

Many public houses have large car parks and garden areas that can be subdivided and treated as a separate planning unit.  The majority of public houses tend to be located in built up areas, thus residential applications are often supported in principle.  The sub-division of the public house can be justified on the grounds that the funds generated actually allow the public house/community facility to remain open.

We have worked on schemes for both commercial and residential subdivision.  We have found that involving the community at the design stage and informing them of the reasons for the planning work has generated support and placated the most vociferous of objectors.

Certificate of Lawfulness

If the pub has been closed for over four years and there is continued residential occupation then there may be scope to secure a Certificate of Lawfulness of Existing Use. This would establish the lawfulness of the pub as a dwellinghouse. It can be a complicated area of planning law, touching on issues such as primary/ancillary use and abandonment. You can read more about a recent successful scheme here .

Next steps

If you own a public house and wish to look at the development possibilities, or you are thinking of purchasing a public house to convert into a dwelling, then please get in contact with one of our consultants.  Should you wish to discuss development options for your pub please contact the team via 01242 501003 or email We value your privacy and any information which you provide will not be shared outside of our company and will only be used in relation to your enquiry.