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The benefit of flexible change of use planning permissions

In times of market uncertainty it is important that there is flexibility built into the planning system. Particularly in relation to B1 (office) uses where it appears that in light of the current Covid-19 pandemic there is a growing shift towards home working and a potential rise in vacant office spaces across the country.

Securing changes of use for such spaces can be challenging, especially in areas where such employment or retail uses are protected. This is often the case on key employment sites or high street locations. One way to get around this can be to apply for a dual or flexible use permission.

What is a Dual Use or Flexible Use Permission?

A dual use planning permission, or flexible use planning permission as it is also referred, allows you to apply for planning permission for two separate uses which can be interchangeable over a 10 year period without the need for further planning permission. This is controlled under permitted development rights (Class V of Part 3 of Schedule 2) of the General Permitted Development (England) Order (2015). There are no restrictions on which two uses can be applied for so this could be the current use and a new further use or alternatively two new separate uses. At the end of the 10 year period, whichever use is functioning at the time becomes the permanent lawful use of the property.

For example, you could seek a planning permission for a dual use for an office (B1) and physiotherapy clinic (D1). If the permission is granted it would be possible to move between uses without needing to make any further planning applications, for a period of 10 years. This allows market forces to dictate the use as if one use were unsuccessful there is essentially a “fall back” use already established and lawfully in place.

A case study

In a recent case, Plainview Planning submitted an application proposing a change of use from B1 (office) to dual B1 (office)/D2 (gym) use in the Stroud District Council area. The unit was situated within a B1 (office) building which sat within a designated employment site which was to be retained for B1 uses. The nature of the proposal being for dual use, ensured no loss of office floor space, but a temporary change which allowed for the vacant space to be utilised and a thriving local business to expand and be retained within the area. The dual use allowed the use to remain flexible and be dictated by market forces. For example if the proposed D2 gym use were unsuccessful, the unit could be reverted back into B1 office use without the need for further planning permission and visa versa, for a period of up to 10 years. This allowed flexibility and security for both the landlord and occupant of the unit.

The case was also supported by detailed marketing evidence to show a lack of demand for the B1 use in the unit and a business plan demonstrating how the new use would not have any adverse amenity impacts. The benefits of non B1 uses and how they are still employment generating and can assist in boosting the local economy were also raised.

How can we help?

We regularly advise clients about the implications of their proposed change of use planning applications and the most appropriate planning route available to them to help them to achieve their aims.

Do you have a vacant unit(s) within an existing office building which could benefit from a dual change of use? Securing a dual use allows for greater flexibility within units for both landlords and potential occupiers and could be a positive way to avoid a mass of vacant units in high streets or business parks at this time. Please get in touch with Emily Penkett (emilyp@plainview.co.uk) for more information.