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What’s the Use? – Changing the use of commercial properties

On 30 June, Boris Johnson announced the most radical reforms to our planning system since the Second World War as part of the Government’s plans for economic recovery and growth post COVID-19.

His message was simple, ‘Build Build Build’. with sweeping changes announced to the current planning system.

These include changes to planning applications required to demolish and rebuild vacant buildings and a fast-tracking of the planning process to build up into the airspace above property. These changes are due to come into force in September this year.

Change of Use Class for Existing Properties

However, perhaps the most interesting change, and one that does not necessarily relate to a building per se, is the change of use class for existing properties. Under the new rules, existing commercial properties, including newly vacant shops, can be converted either to a different commercial class or into residential housing more easily. This change will hopefully kick start the construction industry and speed up rebuilding.

Currently, the change of use classes for buildings is governed by The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015, which sets out whether an application is required to the Local Planning Authority (LPA) before changing the use class of a property.

Changing the use of retail premises to a restaurant or café, for example, may require approval from the LPA before works can be commenced. This process can take time, as well as introducing an element of uncertainty for developers and buyers who may prefer to target properties that do not require a change of use.

Under the new regime, this uncertainty will be removed, and the use of premises will become much more fluid. A building used for retail, for instance, would be able to be permanently used as a café or office without requiring a planning application and approval from the LPA.

Benefits of Changing Use Classes of Properties

This will benefit both buyers and those looking to sell property – buyers will no longer have to concern themselves with potential planning delays or rejections should they wish to change the use of a building.

These changes will both support the high street revival by allowing empty commercial properties to be quickly repurposed and reduce the pressure to build on greenfield land by making brownfield development easier. Developers will still need to adhere to high standards and regulations, just without the unnecessary red tape. So watch this space!

If you are looking to buy or sell commercial premises, please contact Tanuja Sellahewa, a partner in the Morrisons Solicitors Commercial Property team either by email at [email protected], or by phone on 01737 854522.


Although correct at the time of publication, the contents of this newsletter/blog are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute, legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article. Please contact us for the latest legal position.

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