Use classes: the nuts and bolts of changing premises uses

Posted on September 3, 2021
Posted by Marion Kennedy

Whether you are choosing a new business premises, or changing or expanding your business on its existing premises, you need to make sure your proposed business use is permitted. Local planning authorities categorise properties under specific use classes, which set out the type of business activities you are allowed to do. 

This blog will help you find out what use classes are and how to go about changing the use of your premises. 

Use classes

What are use classes (also known as planning use classes or business use classes)?

Use classes are a property classification system under which a local planning authority gives certain permitted uses to all the properties in its area. Each use class indicates a different permitted use for the property, and switching between use classes may require planning permission.

Use class E: a new broad use class

From 1 September 2020, a new broad use class E was introduced in England. This new use class consolidates a number of old use classes (A1, A2, A3, B1, and some D1 and D2 uses) and covers businesses such as shops, restaurants, offices, financial/professional services, indoor sports halls, medical and nursery uses and (broadly) any other services which it is appropriate to provide in a commercial, business or service locality. This means it is easier to change between a range of business purposes without getting planning permission, and a building can be used for several different purposes throughout the day. 

For guidance on the different types of use classes, see Use classes of business premises.

Changing the use of your premises

How can I change the use of my premises and do I need planning permission?

In order to change the permitted use of your business premises, you will need to:

1. Identify the relevant use classes

Identify the existing permitted use class of your business premises, and the class of your proposed new use. If you aren’t sure, you can check your tenancy agreement or contact your local authority for help.

2. Check if you need planning permission

Changing within the same use class

If you are changing the use of your business premises to another use within the same use class, you will not need planning permission. For example, a proposal to change a sandwich bar to a hairdresser or to change an office into a shop (all use class E) will not require planning permission (although you may need your landlord’s consent and you may also need planning permission for structural works – see further guidance below). 

Changing between use classes

You will usually need planning permission from your local planning authority to change the use of your business premises to a different use class if the change is material. To determine whether a change is material, the local authority will look at the significance and impact of the change of use. For example, if you are planning to run a business from home which will lead to notable increases in traffic, disturbance to neighbours, abnormal noise or smells or the need for any major structural changes or major renovations, you may be required to get planning permission. 

In some cases, certain permitted development rights may apply and you may be able to make certain changes of use without planning permission. Additionally, in some cases where the change is a temporary one (up to three years), planning permission may not be needed. Contact your local authority or seek legal advice if you are not sure whether you need planning permission or not. 

Structural alterations or building work

Although changing uses within a use class does not require planning permission, any structural alterations or building work you carry out as part of the change may still require separate planning permission. See Alterations during tenancy for more guidance.

3. Check with your landlord if you rent the premises

Even if you are changing between uses in the same use class (so don’t need planning permission), you’ll still need to check your tenancy agreement to find out whether you need permission from your landlord to change the use of your premises. Landlords can provide certain restrictions in a tenancy agreement (eg that you may not use the premises for the sale of alcohol or be disruptive to neighbours by producing smells or noise).

Be aware that changing or widening the permitted use of rented business premises might lead to a rent increase at your next rent review. The market value of rented premises can go up to reflect the additional freedom over how the premises can be used. 

4. Check with your local planning authority

Local planning authorities have freedom to apply additional rules within their geographic area, so it’s a good idea to have an informal discussion with them to confirm whether planning permission is necessary before taking steps to change the use of your premises. 

You can find the contact details of your local planning authority by using the Planning Portal search. Doing this can minimise delays in processing your application as your local planning authority can indicate any areas of concern and help you understand how planning policies might affect your proposal. Some local planning authorities charge for this service, so you should check this first. 

5. Identify and obtain any necessary licences or permissions

You might need a licence from your local authority for some types of business (eg a licence for alcohol sales) – see Licence and application requirements for further guidance.

How do I apply for planning permission to change the use of my premises?

Once you have carried out the necessary checks, you can apply to your local planning authority for planning permission for change of use. In England, along with your application form you must submit supporting documents including:

  • A location plan and a site plan
    These show the surrounding location of the site and the detail of the property. You can buy a location plan for a small fee through the planning portal during the application process.
  • An ownership certificate
    You must state the current ownership of the property. 
  • The correct application fee
    For an application to change the use of your premises, fees usually start at £462 for most types of change of use. If you submit the wrong fee this will delay your application, so if you are unsure of the fee, you can ask your local planning authority.

Some local planning authorities may ask you to submit additional documents.

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