Revitalising the High Street? Class E – taking the Use Class Order into the 21st Century

Class E Use Order

This week has seen some pretty dramatic changes to the planning world. Not least, the announcement that from the 1st September 2020, new legislation will take effect which will bring in 3 new Use Classes – Class E, F1 and F2.  Of particular interest is Class E, which will amalgamate some of the current use classes into a single new class, therefore deregulating changes of use between them. 

It is another part of the Government’s response to the pandemic, in recognition that business, retail and hospitality premises need to be able to respond quickly to the resulting changes in the way we live our lives. It is also one of the biggest changes to the English planning system in decades. 

The regulations are found in The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020. These amendments update the regularly altered Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987. 

Introducing Class E – what you need to know

In essence, as of the 1st September,  uses including: shops, financial and professional services, restaurants and cafes, Class B1 business, gyms, healthcare, day nurseries/childcare will be grouped together within the new Class E – Commercial, Business and Service

As we know, changes between uses within the same use class is not considered to be development. This being the case, planning permission will not be required for a change between the uses, within this new use Class E.  

Whilst the focus from the government is that these changes will help to revive our high streets and town centres, the new regulations do not solely apply to these areas – they apply across the board wherever these uses are. 

This is great news for landlords faced with empty units and for operators normally discouraged from locating in primary retail areas in deference to Class A1 retail uses.  As the service industry alters its modus operandi in the coming months to respond to the market, it will allow a huge degree of flexibility. 

Planning and Class E – what to consider

As ever with planning – the devil will be in the detail. There may well be hidden constraints to these more flexible use rights, in particular:

  • potentially planning conditions and S106 may still bite, but the full ramifications of the legislation are still being explored;
  • Any external works to facilitate the use will also potentially still need permission i.e. changes to shopfronts, signage, cooking extract ducting; 
  • If a building is listed, listed building consent may still be required; 
  • Lease terms/covenants may prevent alternative uses; and
  • LPA’s can make an article 4 direction before Class E comes into effect, to override the ability to change between the uses. 

From pubs, concert halls and cinemas, to museums and local shops – which have changed use class?

It is also interesting to see those changes which introduce more restrictions rather than greater flexibility. Examples include; learning and non-residential institutions and community facilities including museums, public halls and local shops.  These now fall under Classes F1 and F2, and one can imagine this is also in part a response to the pandemic and the Government seeking to restrict the loss of such community uses.

As for uses such as pubs/drinking establishments, hot food takeaway, cinemas, concert, bingo and dance halls.  These now become ‘Sui Generis’ uses and any change from or to these uses will require planning permission. 

Permitted Development Rights and the new legislation

Permitted Development Rights set down within the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 (as amended) relating to changes of use and prior approval requirements (Second Schedule, Part 3) will also be impacted by this new legislation. Transitional arrangements are set out meaning that permitted development rights conveyed within the schedule referenced above will continue to apply until August 2021. 

These changes to the Use Classes Order are undoubtedly radical, and one hopes will bring much needed flexibility to the High Street to maintain its vitality.  However, it also leaves LPA’s and communities vulnerable – they will lose control over changes between those Class E uses. The way this legislation will play out is not yet fully known and the Planning Practice Guidance has yet to be updated to reflect these imminent changes. What is clear is that there are many nuances, potential implications and unforeseen consequences that may well come to light over the coming months. If you would like to know more about how these changes may affect you and to see whether you may take advantage of them, do get in touch via or call us on 01242 501003  to see how we can best assist you, providing the site address and a brief overview of your project. You can also submit your site via our Landmark Page. 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.

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