Change of use

From Offices to Retail – Changing the Use of Property

It is not uncommon to see commercial premises advertised for sale or for let with “A1 Use” or “B1 Use”. But what exactly does concept of “uses” mean and what implications do they have for you?  For example, what if you have taken ownership of a property which was once offices and you want to turn it into a bakery?  In this article, Partner in the Property department, Anna Blackwell will be looking at the system of “uses”, how they operate and whether it is possible to change the “use” of a property.  We will also be exploring whether planning permission is always required for a change of use and whether any other consents are required.

What are use classes?

The first place to start when seeking to change the use of any property is to determine the property’s current use class.  The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 (as amended) puts uses of land into various categories known as “use classes”.  Each class has its own code which defines what that property may be lawfully used for. The codes cover a wide range of types of property from A1 which is the class for standard shops to D2 which is the classification for assembly and leisure. The planning department of your local council is responsible for determining in your area which use class a particular use falls into.

So, what use class does my property fall into?

It is often the case that properties, particularly commercial properties, will be advertised as having a particular use class and therefore you may know straight away whether your intended use of the property falls within that permitted use class.  If you do not know the present use class for your property or what your property was used for in the past, then a good place to start would be to contact the planning department at your local council.  A full list of the use classes can also be found on the government’s planning portal (www.planningportal.gov.uk).  It’s worth having a chat with your solicitor as well as they may have been provided with documents relating to the use of the property when they acquired the property for you.

Now I know the use class of my property, can I change it and will I need planning permission to do so?

Yes, it is certainly possible to change the use class of a property and it may even be possible to do so without the need for planning permission.  One example of this is where the present and proposed uses of the premises are similar, say for example turning a book shop into a hardware store.  Since both a book shop and a hardware store fall within the same use class, there is unlikely to be any need for planning permission.

Further, the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order actually permits a number of changes from one use class to another without the need to obtain planning permission.  To check whether you will need planning permission to change your property’s use, always check the government’s planning portal.  On the planning portal a table summarising the permitted changes in the planning use classes can be found.  This is a very useful tool to help determine if you need to apply for planning permission.

If your proposed use does not fall within the same use class as the present use or your change to a different use class is not allowed under the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order, then to change the use of the property you will need to go through the full process of applying to the planning department at your local Council for planning permission for change of use.  Do not assume that planning permission for the change of use will be granted.  The Council will need to consider a number of factors and could refuse permission, for example, on the grounds of the impact the change may have on your neighbours. Equally they could grant permission for the change of use but subject to certain restrictions, for example limitations of permitted trading hours.  Changing the use of some properties can be more challenging than others. This applies particularly to residential properties which are classed as Use Class C3.  A full planning application to change a property’s use from residential to commercial will be required.

So apart from planning permission, will I need any other permissions or consents to change the use of my premises?

Yes, chances are planning permission is not the only consent you will need.  If you are leasing your property then always check the terms of your lease to see if consent is needed from the landlord to change the use of the property.  You may also need consent from the landlord to make an application for planning permission in respect of the property.

If your change of use will involve you making substantial alterations to the property, then you should consider the need to obtain buildings regulation approval to any works.  From fire doors to flame -retardant building materials, energy efficient lighting and public facilities, you will need to think about every element carefully, especially if the public will be visiting your property.

As before, if you have a lease of property and you are making alterations to your property, always check to see if such alterations will be permitted under the terms of your lease.  You may find that you need a “licence for alterations” from your landlord first.  If you have any queries about the terms of your lease, please do contact your solicitor for clarification.

Finally, do not forget to check the Land Registry register and the Deeds for the property.  It could be the case that there is a restrictive covenant on the title which prevents you from using the property for a particular use.  For example, it is not uncommon to see a covenant on a title preventing a property being used for the sale of alcohol.  This may cause you an issue if you wish to convert the property to a pub or off license.  If there is a covenant on title prohibiting your intended use, speak to your solicitor as they will be able to advise on your options in respect of the restrictive covenant.

To conclude, changing the use of a property is certainly possible but there is a lot to consider.  A good understanding of the relevant use classes is essential.  Do not assume that your change of use is on the approved list or that an application for change of use will be granted.  It can be difficult to apply for retrospective permission and if declined you may have to revert the property back to its original use which could put you seriously out of pocket.  If you are unsure or wish to explore this further, always consult your solicitor as soon as possible, as they will be able to guide you through the whole process.

To discuss your residential or commercial property email Anna Blackwell  Partner, and Property Solicitor, or call on 01892 833 456.

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice.  The law may have changed since this article was published.   Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.