Struggling or empty retail unit? The planning system can help

30% off sign in shop window

The year ahead could see more high street closures as retail businesses continue to struggle. Our team consider how retailers can use the planning system to help stave off economic gloom.

The challenge for the high street

The problem facing retailers and their landlords is multifaceted:

  1. Consumer confidence is waning with Brexit and potential global recession on the horizon;
  2. Spending continues to shift to online purchases;
  3. Business rates have soared in some locations directly impacting bricks and mortar retailers; and
  4. Wage inflation further increases overheads.

How the planning system can help with flexible uses

We know that most retail units are restricted to a single use class. For instance A1 (retail) or A3 (restaurants). However, retail owners may want to consider applying for a flexible use to maximise the chances of re-letting the unit should a tenant default.

Step 1 would involve applying for planning permission for a flexible use incorporating, for instance, A1, A2, A3, A4, A5, B1, D1, and D2.

Step 2 would be to utilise the little know Class V of the General Permitted Development Order (GDPO), to flip between the various approved use classes.

We believe that in these turbulent times it would be wise for commercial property owners to secure these necessary consents sooner rather than later.

Ancillary Uses?

Adding a small ancillary use to the primary retail unit could be a way of boosting much needed revenue. For instance, a small coffee shop in a retail unit would likely be deemed ancillary and not need planning permission. However, be mindful of any restrictive conditions on old planning permissions. To be absolutely sure that the ancillary use is genuinely ancillary, you may also want to consider applying for a Certificate of Lawfulness of Proposed Use.

Vary planning conditions

Many retail planning permissions have a host of restrictive conditions. For instance, shop opening hours, delivery hours, and outside tables/chairs can all be heavily restricted. You can apply under section 73 of the Town and Country Planning Act to remove or vary these conditions.

Permitted development

There are lots of permitted development rights you may want to consider utilising. Firstly, you’ll need to check that such rights are available and have not been removed via a planning condition or an Article 4 directive. If no such restrictions exist, then the following rights may be available to you – but many of the below have detailed conditions and may require you to undertake a prior approval process before undertaking the change.

Class A – change from restaurant, cafe or pub to an A1 retail unit
Class B – takeaway or pub to restaurant use
Class C – retail unit to restaurant or cafe
Class D – retail unit to financial or professional use
Class E – financial or professional use to retail
Class F – betting shop to financial or professional use
Class G – retail unit to retail unit + 2 flats
Class I – B2 and B8 business to B1, or B1 or B2 to B8
Class J – retail unit to D2 assembly and leisure use
Class L – small retail unit to a dwelling
Class P – storage or distribution uses to dwellinghouse

How our planning consultants can help

Whilst there is much talk about the death of the traditional high street, if a unit is persistently empty then it affects the vitality of the town. If you have a unit which is vacant or struggling, we can help you to review your options and advise you on the best planning strategy for maximising the opportunities on your site.  We also use a whole range of data and technology so we can give you the most up to date planning guidance for your specific site and aspirations.

If you would like expert guidance on how best to proceed with your unit, contact the team at Plainview Planning via or use our Landmark Page to submit your site and receive a no obligation quote for our services. 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.

IMAGE SOURCE: Photo by Benedikt Geyer on Unsplash