In accordance with the government's promise of radical reform of the planning system, the government has laid before parliament The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020 (the "Regulations") which provide a dramatic overhaul of the existing Use Classes Order 1987. The most fundamental change is the introduction of a new use Class E, 'Commercial, Business and Service' which amalgamates the following uses into a single Use Class E:
- Class A1 shops;
- Class A2 financial and professional services (including indoor sport and recreation);
- Class A3 restaurants and cafes; and
- Class B1 business.
The new Use Class E also includes gyms, nurseries and health centres (previously in use classes D1 and D2).
From 1 September 2020, owners will be free to move within this new Use Class E without obtaining planning permission save for the following exceptions:
- Any restrictions in extant planning permissions and/or section 106 obligations.
- Any restrictions in leases and/or restrictive covenants.
It is worth pointing out that any external alterations needed to facilitate the change will still require planning permission and/or listed building consent if applicable.
It's no surprise that drinking establishments (A4), cinemas (D2) and hot-food takeaways (A5) have been removed from the use classes order and are now sui generis uses. These types of uses invariably give rise to local considerations which require planning input and judgement and therefore planning permission will be required for movement into or from these uses.
The Regulations also introduce a new Use Class F1 and Use Class F2 which relate to 'Learning and Non-Residential Institutions' and 'Local Community' uses which incorporate uses from the former D1 and D2 use class respectively.
The high street has been suffering for many years and Covid 19 has sadly accelerated that decline. The Regulations (along with further planning reforms introduced to allow upward extensions from 1 August 2020 and additional relaxations surrounding residential developments to be introduced later this year) are a desperate attempt by the government to stimulate development in the high street by giving businesses the opportunity to be as flexible as possible with the use of their land.
Businesses may now wish to review and consider any live or pending applications for development of uses that now fall within Use Class E and consider whether the application is still required. Landlords and tenants should review their leases to understand the impact of these changes upon their leasing arrangements.
The future of high streets is unknown but the Regulations do provide businesses with an opportunity to be as flexible as possible and diversify their offering, if necessary. While removing planning restrictions can often have negative consequences, radical steps are needed to prevent the death of the high street.