Class E permitted development: What commercial use involves and why it matters?

Class E permitted development: What commercial use involves and why it matters? Planning

Transitioning from commercial to residential use is commonly seen as a savvy strategy in property development. But is it the only and most advantageous option for your next investment? The answer might lie within Use Class E and its various opportunities to convert offices, retail spaces, or service-related premises, reducing the requirement for full planning permission. Explore the potential of business-related properties under Class E, a versatile and adaptable commercial hub facilitated by permitted development.

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What is planning use class E

Use Class E is a categorisation covering a blend of property types in commercial, business, and service activities. This label, now associated with greater versatility for property owners and developers, is part of a government initiative to simplify regulations and promote flexibility in property usage.

The overarching Use Classes Order categorises land and properties based on their primary use, guiding what activities can occur within them. At its core, Use Class E clusters diverse types of properties accommodating numerous essential day-to-day activities within our cities.

What changes underline the new planning class E

In September 2020, the UK government updated its planning system under the Use Class Order 2020. Among other adjustments, the revision brought forth the newfound Use Class E, a comprehensive category now encompassing various business, commercial, and service-related uses.

Concurrently, the update led to the reclassifying of some property brackets, offering a more streamlined framework. Several uses governed by separate categories, such as Class A1, were effectively merged under the Class E umbrella.

There are six obsolete use classes, which are now —entirely or partially— harboured under Use Class E:

  • A1 (Shops)
  • A2 (Financial and professional services)
  • A3 (Restaurants and Cafes)
  • B1 (Business)
  • D1 (Provision of non-residential institutions)
  • D2 (Provision of assembly and leisure)

How does permitted development impact use class E

The formation of Use Class E bears several implications for property owners, developers, and local planning authorities. One of the crucial effects is the relaxation of planning restrictions. This favourable outcome relates to the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO), which establishes that properties changing uses within the same class may proceed without the need for planning permission.

Consequently, while easing the restrictions in property conversions for those clustered now under Class E, this reshuffle admits greater flexibility to align with market demand. Since changing uses within the same class falls under permitted development, exiting out-of-vogue markets or servicing upcoming segments becomes more attractive for property investors.

What types of property usage fall under class E?

PurposeProperty type
Retail sale of goods to publicShops, stores (excluding hot food takeaways)
Sale of food and drink for consumption on the premisesCafes, restaurants
Provision of financial servicesBanks, insurance agencies
Provision of professional servicesLegal firms, accounting offices
Provision of other services suitable for commercial, business, or service areasConsulting firms, marketing agencies
Indoor sport, recreation, or fitness activities for the publicGyms, fitness centres
Providing of medical or health services to the publicClinics, pharmacies (excluding residential uses)
Operation of crèches, day nursery, or day centre for the publicChildcare centres
Office space for operational or administrative functionsCorporate offices, administrative centres
Research and development facilitiesLaboratories, innovation centres
Industrial processes suitable for residential areas without causing detriment to the local amenitiesLight manufacturing, small-scale production


How business and retail benefit from use class E

  • Enhanced business flexibility: Class E encompasses a broad spectrum of uses, offering a diversified portfolio of commercial and business opportunities.
  • Adaptability: Properties falling under Class E, whether catering to businesses, services,or commercial practice, possess the flexibility to swiftly adjust to local demand and transition their usage for optimised returns. This agility allows them to sidestep the complexities of full planning permission while fully embracing their architectural possibilities.
  • Urban renewal: Permitted development within Use Class E offers chances to repurpose underutilised spaces and vacant buildings, contributing to the revitalisation of urban areas. An example of this can be seen in the revival of the high street.

As a property investor, you now have new options for transitioning properties to different uses. Converting a café into a fitness or childcare centre or transforming vacant offices into a bustling retail space can now be done without the need for permission as was previously required.

Use class E under permitted development rights

Alongside the numerous opportunities for transitioning within the same use class, under the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO) Class MA, a change of use from Class E (commercial) to Class C3 (residential) can occur without planning permission. However, in such cases, Prior Approval from the Council is required before legally implementing the change of use. This pathway can be part of a comprehensive planning strategy to achieve your investment goals.


Overview of changes following the revised use classes order

Defunct Use Class

(Pre-Sep 2020)

Revised Use Classes

(Pos Sep 2020)

 Property Use
A1E(a)Specifically for shops
A2E(c)(i) Financial and professional services
A3E(b)Food and drink establishments mainly serving on the premises
B1E(g)(i) Business purposes including office, research and development, and light industrial processes
D1E(e)(f)Non-residential institutions such as medical or health services, crèches, day nurseries, and centres
D2E(d)Assembly and leisure purposes, including indoor sports, recreation or fitness, and gyms
D1F1Non-residential institutions like education, art galleries, museums, public libraries, public exhibition halls, places of worship, and  law courts
A1F2Shops no larger than 280sqm selling mostly essential goods and located at least 1km from another similar shop, or for community halls, outdoor sport/recreation areas, and indoor or outdoor swimming pools and skating rinks
A4Sui generis1Public houses, wine bars, drinking establishments
A5Sui generis1Hot food takeaways
D2Sui generis1Cinemas, concert halls, bingo halls, dance halls, and live music venues


1The Sui Generis class in the UK planning system refers to properties with unique characteristics or functions that do not fit into standard land use categories. Sui Generis governs most distinctive uses and properties such as theatres, petrol stations, casinos, and large houses in multiple occupation.

How is use class E structured?

Use Class EProperty Use
E(a)Display or selling of goods —excluding hot food— to visiting members of the public.
E(b)Offering food and beverages primarily for on-site consumption.
E(c)Supply of services, primarily to the general public/customers visiting the establishment, covering:
E(c)(i)Financial services.
E(c)(ii)Professional services —other than health or medical services.
E(c)(iii)Any additional services deemed suitable within a commercial, business, or service-oriented locality.
E(d)For indoor sports, fitness, or recreational activities —excluding motorised vehicles or firearms— primarily serving visiting members of the public.
E(e)Providing medical or health services primarily to visiting members of the public —excluding the use related to the practitioner’s residence.
E(f)Daycare facility, nursery, or day centre —excluding residential use— primarily serving visiting members of the public.
E(g)Uses which can be carried out in a residential area without detriment to its amenity, enclosing:
E(g)(i)Offices designated for operational or administrative functions.
E(g)(ii)Research and development of products or processes.
E(g)(iii)Industrial processes.


What E class means for the commercial property in brief

The introduced changes and addition of Use Class E effectively streamline procedures, ultimately enabling the repurposing of vacant buildings in high streets and town centres.

This new commercial planning hub permits a blend of property uses to reflect the ever-evolving business and retail landscape, further advancing the influence of permitted development rights. While Use Classes Order outlines the roadmap to operate land and property within our dynamic cities, it remains a building block in a complex planning system.

Team up with WindsorPatania Architects

Navigating investment strategy and property potential, alongside factors like use classes, prior approval, and planning permission, can pose significant challenges in bringing a property project to fruition.

Whether your project remains within the margins of Use Class E or extends to the realisation of a bespoke home design, seeking guidance from a seasoned expert can elevate your undertaking to its highest potential. At HMO Architect, we have guided hundreds of property visionaries nationwide through successful applications, leveraging our wealth of experience and unwavering commitment to compliance. From initial assessments to final project execution, our team stands ready to assist you at every stage of the journey. Embrace the opportunity to turn your vision into reality by reaching out to us today.

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