Do I need planning permission for change of use?

Apex Planning Change of Use

Converting a garage into an office, or changing an office building into a house? Find out whether you need planning permission with this easy guide…

To understand the rules of ‘Change of Use’, you need to be aware of the different Use Classes applied to different kinds of properties. The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 (as amended) categorises the uses of land and buildings and is often referred to as the ‘Use Classes Order’.

For example, Class A1 applies to a retail shop, while A2 applies to professional and financial services such as solicitors and financial advisers, where there is a display window at ground level.

It is possible to change between some Classes without planning permission, thanks to permitted development rights.

For example, it would be possible to change from a restaurant (A3) to a shop (A1). When you look at it logically it makes perfect sense – a shop is unlikely to produce the smells that a restaurant would, nor is it likely to open late into the evening.

Making the switch the other way is also possible, depending on the size of the property and it will require Prior Approval (sometimes referred to as a ‘light touch application’).

For the domestic homeowner (C3) looking to convert that garage or storage area, likewise this is possible through permitted development. However, this is likely to involve some planning judgement too. For instance, the use should be ancillary to the dwelling house, meaning the residential use should remain the principal one. Therefore, whilst a home office in the garage is likely to be permitted, if it is used in such a way that non-residents of the house also work there, planning permission might be required.

Shops can have their use changed so they can be used for business or storage use, but not for industrial use.

It is important to note that not all land and buildings fall into a defined Use Class, some are ‘Sui Generis’ and do not benefit from permitted changes of use, therefore, it is important to check the limitations.

You can find out more about the various classifications on the Planning Portal website here.

What is prior approval?

Where a change of use requires prior approval, this may mean that the local authority needs to take a closer look at certain issues, such as highways, parking, noise, waste, odour and waste collection, or how it will affect the existing shopping provision in a town centre, for instance.

Always check

While the rules apply in most cases, there may be circumstances in which local authorities have removed permitted development rights, so always check before going ahead! This might be done by imposing a restrictive planning condition on an earlier planning permission or by serving an Article 4 Direction, which has the effect of removing permitted development rights from a wide geographic area.

Exceptions to the rules

Other areas where these ‘permitted development’ rules don’t apply, and where you will need to consult with the planning authority and apply for planning permission include if your property is in a: Conservation Area; National Park; Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty,  Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Listed Buildings and Scheduled Monuments.

Agricultural buildings

Agricultural buildings benefit from permitted development when they are being changed into dwellings, although there are some conditions. The permitted change of use is granted by the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 (as amended), Schedule 2, Part 3, Class Q. It is subject a prior approval application and to certain criteria, including:

  • No more than five separate dwellings can be created – and no more than three of them can be classed as a ‘larger dwellinghouse’ (100m2 floor space).
  • No dwellinghouse can be larger than 465 square metres.

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