New planning laws promise greater flexibility for properties to be repurposed as part of the government’s Covid-19 recovery strategy. They have made the biggest change to planning rules for more than 25 years.
The aim is to reduce red tape around planning so allowing things to move quicker in line with the Prime Minister’s pledge to “build back better, build back greener, build back faster”. It is designed to provide greater freedoms to allow businesses to adapt to changing circumstances and to respond more quickly to the needs of their communities. It will reduce the cost and time burden of planning applications for businesses.
The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020 comes into force on 1st September to provide a new Use Class E (commercial, business and service). This new Class E is very wide - it will include retail, food, some services, gyms, healthcare, nurseries, offices and light industrial uses.
The new regulations do not include pubs and bars (previously class A4) or hot food takeaways (previously class A5) within the new Use Class E, to avoid struggling shops changing into pubs and takeaways along the high street without planning permission. Interestingly, this now means that the flexibility offered to pubs three years ago to change to a mixed pub/restaurant use (“drinking establishment with enhanced food offering”) is no longer available.
For the full details, please see our table here
In existing commercial leases, the permitted use of the premises may be limited to a specific use within a use class of the Use Classes Order “from time to time in force”. For a lease that currently permits a retail shop within use class A1(a) with the ability to request the landlord’s approval for other uses within use class A1, for example, it is unclear what applying the new regulations will mean. Given the huge changes that are being introduced, there may well be confusion as to what the permitted use under any such leases is and what the tenant’s ability to apply for a new use extends to.
Landlords may also have “tenant mix” policies in place for retail outlets that further restrict permitted uses. Even when a landlord is prepared to allow a change of use, it is common for leases to limit changes of use to other uses within a specific use class. It remains to be seen how landlords will seek to apply the new regulations in leases entered into after 1 September 2020, but given how wide the new use class E is, a balance will need to be reached between a landlord’s need to retain control and protect its interest in the property and tenants’ desire for flexibility.
In principle, the new regulations offer a refreshed planning platform that could invigorate town centres. In reality, only time will tell whether the new regulations will have the desired effect, but for now we will have to eagerly await the promised guidance that is to be published alongside the regulations to establish the practical implications of the revamped rules.