Collage of different property use classes

Sometimes it is good to remind ourselves of some of the basics in the world of property. This month we do that by looking at use classes, and how these have changed in the last couple of years.

The term Use Classes refers to the category each property is assigned to. The category defines what the property may be used for by its lawful occupants. Use classes were first introduced under The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 and are used when development is being planned – either to the physical appearance or structure of the property or in terms of how it is used.

Amendments to the use classes were made in both September 2020 and August 2021, prior to which the categories, or groups, covered the following uses.

Group A

This group covered properties you would mainly expect to find on the high street, including retail (e.g. shop would sit under A1) and food and drink (for instance A3 for restaurants or cafes).

Group B

This group included places of work, with the subcategory B1 being used for businesses and B2 for general industry.

Group C

This group existed for residential properties (C3 being assigned to dwelling houses), or properties used as places of residence such as hotels, which were categorised as C1.

Group D

This final use class covered non-residential institutions (D1) as well as properties used for assembly and leisure (D2)

If how the properties were going to be used changed, planning permission would need to be applied for, unless the use class was within the same class. This was helpful, as it allowed some flexibility for the owners of the property to adjust how the building was being used. However, it was still relatively restrictive for business owner who were seeking to diversify their offering.

It also made rejuvenating a high street difficult, where the usage of properties may need to change more drastically to allow new tenants to start trading. The changes introduced in 2020 sought to reduce some of those restrictions.

Use class changes in 2020

The primary change introduced in The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) Regulation 2020 was the introduction of class E. This new use class covered many of the original classes for properties being used for commercial, business and service purposes.

A further category was introduced, Group F, for learning and non-residential institutions, as well as local community. These are outlined further below.

The result is that use classes A and D no longer existed, but rather were assigned the new, broader categories. The use classes that have been kept with the 2020 amendments are B2 (General industry), B8 (storage and distribution, C1 (hotels), C3 (dwellings, houses, flats and apartments) and C4 (Houses in multiple occupation).

Group E

This new group now covers the increasingly diverse nature of business, and facilitates the change of activities taking place within the different properties more easily.

The group covers:

  • Shops – previously A1
  • Financial and professional services – previously A2
  • Restaurants and cafes – previously A3
  • Offices – previously B1
  • Non-residential, such as health centres or gyms – previously D1
  • Assembly and leisure – previously D2

Group F

As mentioned above, this newly created use class covers learning and non-residentials institutions under the subcategory of F1. More specifically this includes properties that are used for the provision of education, libraries, museums, public and exhibition halls, places of public worship or religious instruction and law courts.

Use class F2 focusses on the local community and is as such quite a broad class. The subcategories further define the uses, but the use class is designed to be flexible, to ensure local communities are not left without some of the more essential services.

  • Community-style shops that sell essential goods are covered by use class F2. There are restriction on this however, in that no other services of this kind can be offered within 1km and the premises cannot be more than 280 sq m in size.
  • Halls and meeting places that are used for the local community are covered by F2(b) while F2(c) is used for open spaces used for outdoor sport and recreational activities (excluding those involving firearms or motorised vehicles).
  • The final use class currently in Group F is F2(d) which includes skating rinks and swimming pools, either indoor or outdoor.

in addition to the above, a further category was created “Sui Generis”, which covers any properties that do not fall into one of the above mentioned use classes.

A class of their own

Sui Generis – a Latin phrase meaning “of its own kind” – is a fairly significant list, as it covers any premises not categories by one of the other use classes. Examples include properties such as:

  • Public houses
  • Theaters
  • Live Music venues and nightclubs
  • Hot Food Takeaway
  • Petrol stations
  • Ships selling motor vehicles
  • Cinemas
  • Hostels that do not provide a significant level of care

…and the list goes on.

While many were previously classified under use class D2, these uses do not easily fit into the other groups, which is what necessitated the creation of the Sui Generis use class. It is also noteworthy that properties classified as Sui generis do all require planning permission if they wish to change the purpose they are being used for.

Use class changes in 2021

The changes to The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 that came into effect in August 2021 were aimed to provide greater flexibility to property owners wishing to change the purpose their premises is being used for. With many high streets struggling to find businesses wishing to open a storefront business, these changes enabled development rights to be granted to turn business premises into residential use properties. Specifically this change covered properties classified as class O in the General Permitted Development Order – a change from office to residential – and class M – a change from shop, financial service, or mixed use to residential use.

In terms of the use class groups we have discussed above, this therefore means that changes in use class from class E (commercial, business and service) to use class C3 (dwelling house) are facilitated more easily. However, there are some limitations property owners need to be aware of if they are considering changing the use class of their premises.

For instance, the property must have been vacant for at least three months and it must have been used for one of the previous classes for a continuous period of two years prior. Additionally, for larger properties, the cumulative floor space that is being assigned a new use class cannot exceed 1,500 sq m, and owners would need to ensure they only make the change to part of the building if it exceeds that area.

Limitations around properties that are – or are contained within – any of the following are also not allowed to be re-developed for a new use case:

  • listed buildings or its associated curtilage;
  • sites of special scientific interest;
  • a scheduled monument or in its associated curtilage;
  • a safety hazard area; or
  • a military explosive storage area.

Further limitations also cover buildings located within certain natural areas, such as areas of outstanding natural beauty, unless the landlord has provided express consent that the tenant can do so.

Here to guide you

The process of changing a Use Class can be complicated. If you are considering changing the use of your property, it is important to understand what use class your property sits in and what your options are.

Having worked in the London property market for over 25 years, our team of property experts has worked with property owners and landlords across all use classes, carrying out surveys and valuations to help property owners to make the switch.

Contact our team on 0800 071 5517 or email to get expert advice today.