Thursday, 3rd September 2020

Use Class changes: Revitalising the High Street or a planning free for all?

Fundamental changes to the use class system came into force this week, (1 September 2020), that enable greater flexibility to change between uses in a bid to both repurpose buildings and revitalise our town centres and high streets. The idea of allowing a building to operate flexibly by having a number of uses taking place concurrently or by allowing different uses to take place at different times of the day is, I agree, a positive step. It enables businesses to react to changing economic requirements, brings underused or vacant properties back into use, supports diversification and small businesses whilst bringing active frontages and independence back to the high street. However, many of us have little interest in planning developments until they happen in our backyard. So, with all of this flexibility which is not restricted to our town centres and high streets, where is the control? We consider the changes and potential implications below.

Changes to the use classes system have been made under the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020 (the “Regulations”). There has been much discussion on planning reform in recent months with the driver being to ‘extend homes upwards and revitalise town centres’. These use classes changes sit alongside a series of other reforms including the proposals set out in the government White Paper – Planning for the Future, published in August 2020, and new permitted development rights on unused buildings and existing homes. The new use class Regulations revoke existing use classes A and D which are replaced with three completely new use classes E, F.1 and F.2 whilst some of the older use classes have also been recategorised as sui generis (see Figure 1).

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