Understanding planning use classes and use classes order

Understanding planning use classes and use classes order Planning

All properties in the UK fall under a category which determines how they can be used, and how their purpose can be changed overtime. That is to say, the use class of a property is not set in stone.  

With the right understanding, your property’s existing use class can be key to unlocking potential, reshaping its identity, and ensuring the building evolves in tandem with the surrounding urban tapestry. Granted, planning around use classes might initially appear intimidating, but the layered complexities often cloak a sea of untapped opportunities. Imagine transforming a quaint shop into a cosy home or converting a bustling office space into a serene yoga studio, all within the regulated framework and sometimes without the need to secure planning permission. With this no-sweat guide, you will be able to envisage a new life for your property and act to unlock this potential. 

Instead of regarding Planning Use Classes as frustrating red tape, start by viewing this categorisation as a helpful tool for shaping your property’s future. As you grasp the practicalities, and learn to use them wisely, you will be able to keep your property up to date with any reforms and poised to reap the benefits of new opportunities. Dive in as we unwrap the planning use classes and orders.


What are Planning Use Classes?

Simply put, Planning Use Classes are labels assigned by the UK government which tell you what you can and cannot do with a particular property. It is all neatly outlined in a legal guidebook called the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order, which was first created in 1987 and was since significantly revised in 2020.

The most recent iteration of the guide in 2020 laid out the current planning order, the main change being the introduction of Class E, which includes a wide range of business, commercial and services. This new planning order included the reclassification of other classes. By way of illustration, several community-related uses found a consolidated home under the newly fashioned Class F1 and F2, offering a more organised and structured outlook.

The importance of Planning Use Classes in the property industry

Whatever your project entails, navigating the property world requires an understanding of Planning Use Classes. Broadly speaking, if you are making changes but staying within the same use class, you do not need to ask for planning permission, except if you are making external alterations to the building. This allows businesses to change how they use their property without jumping through a myriad of official hoops.

Thanks to the provisions known as “permitted development”, you can shift between different uses with a previous approval from your local council, making things way more flexible and easier to adapt in the property field. Although prior approval from the local planning authority might be required for some permitted development rights for change of use.

From creating a vibrant restaurant to establishing offices that buzz with innovative ideas, these labels or Use Classes provide a clear, organised way to understand what your property can be transformed into. For instance, many of our clients are looking to evolve their space to house:

  • Restaurants
  • Financial, professional, or other commercial services
  • Publicly accessible indoor sport, recreation, or fitness
  • Publicly available medical or health services
  • Crèches, day nurseries and day care centres
  • Offices, including research and development
  • Industrial uses, ensuring they do not intrude upon amenity
Commercial to residential conversion

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The different types of Use Classes

The various Use Classes help define the permitted uses of a building, mapping the way to determine the potential use and, ultimately, its unrealised value. Below’s snapshot overview provides a handy reference guide.

Class B2: The hub of general industry

When exploring Class B2, you’ll find a distinct focus on the broader industrial sector. This category encompasses industrial activities that fall outside the scope of Class E (specifically sub-paragraph G), and it includes various associated processes like manufacturing and production. The flexibility within Class B2 is quite tangible, allowing for intriguing possibilities. For instance, it grants you the option to transition to a permanent business use, such as storage and distribution (Class B8), under the umbrella of Permitted Development (PD) Class I. This provides a clear and straightforward path to explore the vast industrial opportunities at your fingertips.

Class B8: Storage and distribution centres

At WindsorPatania, we have vast experience in transforming various spaces classified for storage and distribution under Class B8. These spaces have the potential to transition to Class C3, albeit with the prerequisite of prior approval (GPDO Class P). This unique feature means that these properties can be transformed into pivotal hubs for strategic retail and manufacturing operations, which allows the space to evolve into an even more dynamic landscape for business activities. Under Class R of the GPDO it is possible to convert an agricultural building into a B8 storage use.

Class C1: The hospitality haven

Class C1 is dedicated to hotels, boarding houses, and guest houses with no predominant care component. What makes this Use Class interesting is its potential to evolve into a state-funded school, as classified under Class F.1(a) (subject to GPDO Class T). Furthermore, it allows for the possibility to revert to the property’s previous lawful use, denoted as GPDO Class U. This added flexibility provides a valuable dimension to property strategy, allowing for adaptive and strategic planning.

Class C2: Residential institutions and their unique place

The residential institutions within Class C2, which provide care and accommodation to those in need, represent a unique spatial story. They hold the potential to metamorphose into state-funded schools under Class F.1(a) (GPDO Class T) and, like the previous class, to return to their former use (GPDO Class U). This flexibility allows a single space to offer both care as well as development and education.

Class C2a: The safety of secure residential institutions

Class C2a encompasses a unique spatial class which deals with residential institutions such as prisons and detention centres. These spaces can be transformed into state-funded schools under Class F.1(a) (GPDO Class T). Just like their counterparts in Class C1, they retain the option to revert to their prior use, as defined by GPDO Class U. This versatility means that a single space can be adapted to offer care, development, security and education.

Class C3: Domiciles of variety

Class C3 covers a diverse array of residential dwellings of all shapes and sizes, such as houses, bungalows and apartments, which can be primary residences or otherwise. Notably, these spaces have the option to transition into Class C4 (subject to GPDO Class L). This capacity opens the door to an exceptional opportunity in that these properties can shift the traditional concept of dwelling houses to the more complex and multifaceted habitation structures.

Class C4: HMO Houses in Multiple Occupation

Class C4, which encapsulates houses in multiple occupation (HMOs), provides a distinctive yet compelling spatial experience. What makes this classification more riveting is its potential for a seamless transition back to Class C3 under Permitted Development Class L. This feature allows HMO properties to serve as platforms for innovative and holistic living solutions; which further enriches the real estate landscape.

Class E: The all-encompassing commercial hub

Class E is a broad subclassification that embraces a wide range of businesses, commercial activity and services, from shops and on-premises dining to financial establishments and non-residential nurseries. It is quite a mixed bag, which also includes medical services not associated with practitioner residences and specific industrial processes.

This class presents a few options for changing use. For instance, it is possible to shift property use to C3 with the green light of GPDO Class MA. Alternatively, you can transform a space into a blend of Class E use and up to two flats, as permitted by GPDO Class G and H. Moreover, the property can be repurposed into a state-funded school through GPDO Class T or returned to its previous usage under GPDO Class U, which provides a range of possibilities for adaptation.

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Class F1: Not just a school, a learning experience

The Class F1 category deals with places of learning and experience that do not require on-site living. This encompasses schools and non-residential institutions like art display spaces, museums, public libraries, exhibition halls, places of worship and even law courts. While this class tends to remain rooted in its original purpose without permitting permanent changes, it displays a quiet yet unwavering dedication to fostering educational and enlightening experiences. This commitment can be further enriched by introducing temporary adaptations, adding a layer of dynamism to these spaces.

Class F2: Keeping it local and community-oriented

Class F2 truly shines by providing robust support for local community uses. This classification caters to a wide range of amenities, from small essential goods shops (up to 280 square meters) to community halls, outdoor sports areas (with exclusion of motorised vehicles or firearms), and even facilities like swimming pools or ice rinks. F2 remains steadfast in preserving its original character, not permitting permanent changes. Instead, it upholds a consistent dedication to fostering community cohesion and providing solid support to local communities.

Sui Generis: The one-of-a-kind spots

Envision spaces that veer slightly from the ordinary –theatres, arcades, petrol stations, casinos, and even your local takeaway. Each of these establishments falls under the unique and distinctive category known as Sui Generis. This classification exists because each of these places doesn’t quite fit neatly into the other established categories.

Here is a sneak peek into some rules you need to know about changing the purpose of these properties:

  • Casinos, betting shops, payday loan shops and hot food takeaways have the flexibility to transition into something falling under Class E, which cover commercial, business, and service-related activities. However, it is essential to note that this change requires prior notification under GPDO Class A.
  • Pubs and wine bars have the option to broaden their offerings by including a more extensive food menu. Conversely, those that currently serve food can also revert to their original focus of primarily serving beverages, all under the framework of GPDO Class AA. This flexibility allows for a dynamic and adaptable approach, catering to changing business needs and customer preferences.
  • Betting offices and payday loan shops have the option to transform into a combination of a shop classified under Class E while incorporating up to two flats. However, it is essential to seek prior approval (under GPDO Class G) for this transition. Furthermore, they have the flexibility to switch between these mixed-use arrangements and their original setup within Class E, thanks to GPDO Class H.
  • Launderettes, takeaways, and a few other select businesses have the opportunity to transition into residential homes, provided they obtain the necessary approval under GPDO Class M. Similarly, entertainment venues such as amusement centres or casinos can also undergo this transformation into residential homes, but it is essential for them to secure the approval required under GPDO Class N.

Within the Sui Generis category, each establishment is unique and must be treated as such. Fortunately, with the right paperwork and approval, these spaces have the potential to transform into something entirely fresh and original. This means that your favourite takeaway could one day morph into a new shop or even a residential home, illustrating the adaptability and potential within this special classification.

WindsorPatania: Your guide in the world of planning and building

WindsorPatania architects know Planning Use Classes and Use Classes Order inside and out. Consider us your friendly and knowledgeable guides along the twisty paths of property planning. We specialise in turning your aspirations into tangible, habitable structures. Our track record includes helping numerous clients bring a diverse range of projects to life, from swanky airspace developments to cosy London basements. Our commitment extends beyond aesthetics –we ensure that every project not only looks exceptional but also adheres to regulatory standards.

Our seasoned team combines innovative design with a deep understanding of crucial legal parameters. This guarantees that your property is both a joy to behold and entirely above board. Whether you are envisioning environmentally-friendly buildings or eye-catching retail spaces, WindsorPatania is on hand to ensure that your property dreams align with the necessary Planning Use Classes.

Wrapping up: The big role of Planning Use Classes in building and city planning

When it comes to property development, Planning Use Classes serve as more than just administrative hurdles to clear; they are indispensable tools that profoundly influence not only your project but the very fabric of our cities and towns. Beyond merely dictating rules, these categories ensure every property is put to the best possible use.

Forward-thinking property investors should view Planning Use Classes as far more than checkboxes to tick. They represent a powerful strategy for creating sustainable, legal and optimised urban spaces. As your trusted partner, WindsorPatania can help you navigate this landscape, turning codes and frameworks into strategic assets that pave the way for innovative and compliant property developments.

If you have a project in mind, get in touch with WindsorPatania and together we’ll bring your vision to life.

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