Radical Reforms to the Planning System

11th September 2020

Radical Reforms to the Planning System

Jen Hicks-Jones, an Associate in Higgs & Sons’ Commercial Property team, reflects on significant changes to the planning system introduced this week.

It has been dubbed a “radical reform” by the government and there is no doubt the recently introduced changes to the planning system in England and Wales are significant.

The alterations of classifications to the Use Classes Order means that planning permission will no longer be required for certain changes of use.

Prior to amendments to the regulations, there was a basic requirement to obtain planning permission for material change of use of any buildings or land. For example, planning permission would be required to convert a hairdressers into a restaurant. 

Under the new directives, existing buildings that are already part of Class A1, A2, A3 and B1 – as well as certain D1 and D2 classifications - will now all fall into a new category, Class E.

Class E (commercial, business and service) will cover a wide range of uses such as retail, restaurants, cafes, banks and other financial services, gyms and other indoor sports and fitness facilities, healthcare, nurseries, offices and light industry. The new directives mean planning permission will no longer be required for any change of use within this class.

A new Use Class F1 (learning and non-residential institutions) will absorb the remaining parts of current Class D1 not covered by the new Class E. This includes education, non-commercial galleries, museums, public halls, places of worship and law courts. 

A new Use Class F2 has been created for “local community” uses, absorbing part of the current Class A1 and D2 including small corner shops, local community halls, swimming pools and outdoor recreational areas.

Pubs, wine bars and other drinking establishments, drinking establishments with expanded food provisions, hot food takeaways, live music venues, concert venues, bingo halls, cinemas and dance halls are added to the list of ‘sui generis uses’, meaning a material change in use from one to another would require planning permission.

The new Use Classes Order also introduces a concept of “part use”. This allows a change of use for part of a building or planning unit to an alternative Class E classification without permission.

It is likely that the increased flexibility will help high streets and town centres quickly adapt to what consumers and businesses need.  

For the period up to July 31, 2021, any development will occur with reference to the previous use class definitions, as existed at the end of August.

In addition, any applications for planning permission made prior to the September 1, 2020, will be assessed against the current use class definitions. However, once implemented, such uses may fall within the new use classes.

Finally, a new Permitted Development right has been introduced by the government, allowing vacant commercial and residential buildings to be demolished and used for new housing without the need for planning permission - subject to various conditions.

The changes aim to remove the considerable hurdles that have previously accompanied many planning applications. It is hoped that they may reduce the pressure on greenfield sites by allowing buildings to change use without planning permission.

However, it is unclear whether local planning authorities will resist this loss of control and seek to restrict the new flexibilities.

Given the significance of the changes, it will be some time before any real benefits or concerns come to light.

For more information, please contact me on 01384 327183 or at



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