Use classes

The way a business premise is used may occasionally change, either because an entirely new business moves in or the occupier decides to alter their existing business or expand into new areas. In certain cases, planning permission will be required to allow a new form of business to operate on the premises.
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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.

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.

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

See GOV.UK for more information on licensing in England and Wales and in Scotland.

Changing a use class may necessitate various types of building work which 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 a premises are covered by the building regulations in England and Wales or those in Scotland.

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