(Class) E… is for Everything!

I’m getting used to the planning system to changing on an almost hourly basis and today has been no exception.

As it promised to, the Government has published regulations amending the Use Classes Order, coming into effect in September. And, in fact, these are probably the most significant changes since the first version of the order in 1987.

In summary, the Government appears to combining retail (A1), professional services (A2) and restaurants (A3) into a “single commercial, business and service” use – Class E.

However, it doesn’t stop there. Class E also – it seems – will include Class B1 offices, and some elements of Class D1, such as gyms, health clubs and clinics and creches/nurseries.

But isolated local convenience stores will not be included. Instead, they’ll get their own new separate use class (F2) which will, curiously, also include ice rinks, swimming pools and halls or meeting places for the local community (the latter not to be confused with public halls. Which are, of course, entirely different.)

Pubs and pubs serving food, on the other hand, will become sui generis uses alongside hot food takeaways and cinemas.

This will force a very significant change in the way in which we think about, asset manage, and make plans and policies for high streets and commercial areas. I also wonder about the implications for the structure of retail leases and user clauses which may now prove significantly more restrictive than planning controls.

Broadly, more flexibility to support change and innovation in town centres, without having to run the gauntlet, and bear the time, cost and uncertainty of planning, is something I’m keen on (and advocated here).

But – as always with new planning regulations – there are some curious aspects to this afternoon’s changes. Whilst no doubt others will emerge, my immediate queries include:

  1. Why will pubs need planning permission to change from “drinking establishment with expanded food provision” to “drinking establishments” and vice-versa? They don’t have to at the moment.
  2. Why the sudden references to “part use” – are we seeing the first appearance of some form of new legal concept to run alongside the planning unit? My suspicion is that this is designed to allow for fragmentation or subdivision without triggering a debate as to whether a sui-generis use has been formed as a result of multiple uses existing alongside one another?
  3. What’s the difference between a “public hall” (Class F1) and a “hall or meeting place for the principal use of the local community” (Class F2)?
  4. How far will the catch-all “other services appropriate for a commercial, business or service locality” definition be capable of stretching?
  5. Why the strange addition to the definition of offices as an office “to carry out any operational or administrative functions.”? Is this supposed to add to, or indeed take away from, the “old” B1 definition which was, effectively, any office use that wasn’t within Class A2? Could there be an office that is not within Class E? What about the provision of professional services (say town planning and development advice) not to visiting members of the public?

I’m sure there will be other subtleties that appear as this starts to sink in.

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