Flexible use on the high street: key facts brief

Published 18 September 2020

Applies to England

The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020 No.757)

What are the changes?

Before now, property holders would generally need to seek full planning permission or make use of permitted development rights to change the use of their premises, e.g. from a shop into a restaurant, or a restaurant into an office.

We are simplifying this into a streamlined system, so that:

  • Buildings can convert between commercial, business and service uses – shops, restaurants, services (like banks), gyms, offices, research facilities – and into a mix of such uses – without needing planning permission
  • There will be protections for learning uses, such as schools, libraries, art galleries etc, which will be able to change between these functions without planning permission, but will always need planning permission to convert to another use
  • There will be protections for community uses, such as small isolated shops, community halls, outdoor sports areas etc will be able to change between these functions without planning permission, but will always need planning permission to convert to another use
  • Existing rights to convert buildings into residential will be unaffected until 31 July 2021. Consideration is being given to a new right to change use from the new Commercial, Business and Service use class to residential.

Why are you making these changes?

As we protect and grow our economy post covid, we must think flexibly about how best to support our high streets and town centres. These changes will give high streets the ability to adapt quickly to new uses where they might be greater value, or to change into housing in due course. This gives the high streets and our town centres the best chance of adapting and thriving, but we are protecting uses which bring unique benefits, like local pubs – and local authorities will still be able to control use changes that might bring nuisance to the community – like betting shops.

Where and when do the changes apply?

In England, from 1 September 2020.

What safeguards are in place?

  • Some types of building are listed with ‘no class specified’ – for example pubs, cinemas, and concert halls – so if an owner wants to repurpose the building, they would need full planning permission and local consideration. This means buildings which bring particular benefits to the local community will be protected.
  • Also listed separately are ‘nuisance uses’ – buildings like hot food takeaways & betting shops which attract strong views locally. Buildings will not be able to transition into hot food takeaways or betting shops without full planning permission, and licensing consent will still be required for selling alcohol.
  • A new ‘Local Community’ use class, which protects uses important to local communities – like swimming pools, skating rinks and areas for outdoor sports
  • Planning permission will still be needed to convert homes into other uses.

What is the estimated scope?

We estimate that around 1.5 million buildings could fall within scope of the new ‘commercial class’ and benefit from greater flexibility.