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. Examples of use classes include:
- A1 - shops
- A3 - restaurants and cafes
- B1 - offices
- B2 - general industrial
- C1 - hotels
- C3 - residential houses
- D2 - leisure establishments (eg concert halls)
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 - restaurants and cafes
Class 4 - business
Class 5 - general industry
Class 6 - storage or distribution
Sui generis - refers to a use that doesn’t fall within a specific class under the legislation.
Once a use class has been assigned, only the types of business which 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, in general, this involves obtaining planning permission.
For example, a building is rented out to a web design company which 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. In order to proceed, planning permission must first be sought to change the use class from B1 - Offices to A3 - Restaurants and cafes (or from Class 4 - Business to Class 3 - Restaurants and cafes in Scotland).
If the new business falls within the same use class (eg a shoe shop becomes a florist), 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 (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 enabled certain use classes to be switched without seeking planning permission (eg changing a restaurant (A3) into a shop (A1)). In Scotland, the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1992 (as amended) did the same.