Major shake-up for high street planning controls

Last week central government announced major changes to planning controls in England which are hoped to boost development and make use of empty buildings on the high street.


Amendments to the Use Class Order


The amendments to the use class order will see a change to high street planning controls – the most drastic in over 30 years- which will lead to a greater flexibility for town centre uses.


From September buildings and land that are currently used as Class A1 (Shops), Class A2 (Financial and Professional Services), Class A3 (Restaurants and Cafes) or Class B1 (Business) will be grouped into a new use Class E (Commercial, business and services).  The new Class E will also include indoor gyms and sport facilities, clinics, children’s nurseries, offices and light industrial operations.


The creation of use Class E will allow greater flexibility within town centres and aims to reduce vacancy rates by enabling a wider range of businesses to occupy empty units without the need for planning permission. The changes will also allow businesses to offer a wider range of services.


The amendments to the use classes order demonstrate a clear shift in the government’s direction for the future of high streets and directly undermines the previous policy decisions of many Local Authorities to protect Class A1 (Shop) uses in the town centre. Local Authorities will now need to rethink their approach to planning policies and decisions in town centres and follow central governments lead on flexibility.


The changes will allow for greater flexibility on the high street but they will also have the same effect for existing uses outside of town centres too. Use Class E includes health clinics, creches, gyms and office buildings which in September could be converted to shops or restaurants without the need for planning permission.  As a result, the amendments to the use classes order have the potential to drastically change the character of not only our high streets but other out of town ‘business park’ locations too.


Local Authorities will however maintain control of the current use Class A4 (Drinking Establishments) and Class A5 (Hot Food Take-Away) which have been omitted and instead are included in the list of “sui-generis” uses.  The list of defined sui-generis uses has been expanded by 8 parts and now includes drinking establishment, hot food takeaway and live music venues.  This will allow control over the introduction of these types of uses which typically have a greater neighbourhood and amenity impact but will also serve to protect the existing facilities that may be considered as an asset to the community or to the vitality and viability of the local area.


The amendment has also omitted Class D1 and Class D2. A new Class F1 (Learning and non-residential institutions) will provide protection for facilities such as school, libraries and museums. Class F2 (Local Community Uses) has been introduced to include Places of Worship, Meeting Halls and Outdoor Recreation. Class F2 will also include small shops (no more than 280 sqm) selling essential goods provided there is not a similar shop within 1km which will serve to protect these shops from the flexibility afforded with Class E.


New Permitted Development Rights


The announcement of these changes comes shortly after the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO) was extended to allow purpose built apartment blocks to extend upwards by an additional 2 storeys under permitted development (subject to prior approval).


In addition to this, the government have announced a new permitted development right which will allow for the demolition of purpose built flats or office buildings to be replaced with a new block of flats or a single detached dwellinghouse. The new permitted development rights will allow developers a quick and more cost effective route to gaining planning permission, however the new Class ZA has a large amount of conditions which may still halt development. The prior approval process is subject to 13 considerations which includes factors such as design, as well as the amenity impact of new residential use in that location. In addition to this, in order to fall under the new permitted development (Class ZA) there are certain criteria to meet including that the building must have been built before 1989, have under 1000 sqm of floor space and have been vacant for the 6 months prior to the application for prior approval.

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