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What are use classes and when is planning permission required?


Under the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987, buildings and plots of land are categorised into various 'use classes'. These use classes essentially determine how the property can be used and include:

  • Class E - commercial, business and service

  • shops (formerly A1)

  • financial and professional services (formerly A2)

  • food and drink (mainly on the premises) (formerly A3)

  • business (office, research and development and light industrial process) (formerly B1)

  • non-residential institutions (medical or health services, crèches, day nurseries and centres) (formerly D1)

  • assembly and leisure establishments (indoor sport, recreation or fitness, gyms) (formerly D2)

  • Class F.1 – learning and non-residential institutions

  • non-residential institutions (education, art gallery, museum, public library, public exhibition hall, places of worship, law courts) (formerly D1)

  • Class F.2 - local community

  • shops no larger than 280sqm (selling mostly essential goods and at least 1km from another similar shop); community halls, outdoor sport/recreation areas, indoor or outdoor swimming pools, skating rinks (formerly A1) 

  • Class C3 - residential houses

  • Sui generis (means uses that were previously in classes, but now don’t fall within a specific class)

  • public houses, wine bars, drinking establishments (formerly A4)

  • hot food takeaway (formerly A5)

  • cinemas, concert halls, bingo halls, dance halls (formerly D2)

For more information see the Planning Portal’s guidance on use classes.


In Wales, the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 (as amended)  puts uses of land and buildings into various categories. Examples of use classes include:

  • Class A1- shops 

  • Class A3 - food and drink

  • Class B1 - business 

  • Class B2 - general industrial 

  • Class C1 - hotels 

  • Class C3 - residential houses

  • Class D2 - assembly and leisure establishments (eg concert halls)

For more information, see the Planning Portal’s guidance on use classes in Wales.


In Scotland, the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Scotland Order 1997 is the relevant legislation and the terminology used is slightly different. Examples of use classes include:

  • Class 1 - shops

  • Class 2 - financial and professional services

  • Class 3 - food and drink 

  • Class 4 - business

  • Class 5 - general industry

  • Class 6 - storage or distribution

Uses that don’t fall within a specific class under the legislation are referred to as ‘sui generis’.

When is planning permission required?

Once a use class has been assigned, only the types of business that fall within that particular use class can operate on the premises. Before a new type of business is allowed to operate on the premises, the use class must be changed and this involves obtaining planning permission.

For example, a building is rented out to a web design company that uses the property as an office. Their lease comes to an end and they decide to move out. The landlord puts the property on the market and is approached by a coffee bar chain that wants to open up a new outlet. If the new business falls within the same use class, there is no need to seek planning permission (for the purposes of use classes). Furthermore, it should be noted that the Town and Country Planning GPDO enabled certain use classes to be switched without seeking planning permission. In Scotland, the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1992 (as amended) did the same.

Note that in England, from 1 August 2021, Class MA allows for the change of use from commercial business and service use (Class E) to residential use (Class C3) subject to prior approval from the local planning authority and certain restrictions being complied with (eg the building being in commercial, business and service use for 2 years and being vacant for 3 continuous months prior to the application).

Can I change my business use under the lease?

Businesses renting a property will usually find restrictions in the lease which refer to the use classes and associated permitted uses of the premises. However, restrictions under the lease may well be different to use classes (especially since use classes change over time) so it's important for businesses to understand both their obligations under the lease and under the local planning law. Although a new permitted use can be negotiated with a landlord, it may also require planning permission, and vice-versa.

Will I need to get a licence?

To carry out certain types of activity on a premise will additionally require a licence (separate to use classes). Examples include:

  • serving alcohol

  • hosting live music

  • showing a film

For more information on licensing, read Business licences

Do building regulations affect changing a use class?

Changing a use class may necessitate various types of building work that requires compliance with building regulations. Sometimes even minor alterations (such as changing ventilation systems) may constitute 'building work' - so it's important to check if any changes being made to premises are covered by the building regulations in England and Wales or those in Scotland.

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