In today’s unpredictable economy, businesses and landlords need the ability to quickly and easily make a change of use to their commercial property.
A change of use can give you a greater choice of tenants and improved options on how your commercial property can be used.
This article explains how a change of use is handled by the planning system and how to successfully approach a change of use planning application.
What is a “use class”?
Under the planning system, all buildings are assigned a code that signifies their designated lawful use. These are known as “use classes”.
For example, typical residential housing falls under Class C3, while standard shop premises will be Class A1. Commercial property is covered by a wide range of use classes.
If you wish to change the use class of a building, it’s important to know which class your intended use falls under, as this will shape the process going forward. A full list of use classes can be found on the Planning Portal.
It is possible for use classes to change from residential to commercial or vice versa.
Can I convert my building to commercial use?
Quite possibly. The first thing to do is to find out your building’s current use class. You may find this information in your legal searches (if you’ve bought the property recently) or within previous planning permission documentation. It can also help to check with your local authority’s planning department.
Unfortunately, there is no central register or standard form of notification for the use classes of existing buildings. If you can’t find documentary evidence, a lot of the onus is on you to prove how the building has been used in the past.
Depending on your findings, you may be able to show that your building currently has a variety of uses. While it’s presently used as a shop, for example, it could also be used as an office or a restaurant. You may find that the building is already classified for whatever intended use you have in mind.
My building is not approved for commercial use. What now?
If you have established the building’s use class, it might be possible to convert this to commercial use without having to apply for planning permission. Current rules allow some permitted changes of use class, which are outlined in the Planning Portal.
If your existing and intended uses are listed as a permitted change, then you shouldn’t have to go through the full planning procedure. However, it’s always safer to confirm this with your local planning authority. Also note that if you intend to make alterations to the exterior of the building to suit its new use (such as adding an extension, or changes to windows or doors), then you will still need to submit a planning application for this work.
If your existing and intended uses are not deemed to be a permitted change, you will need to submit a planning application to legally change the use class of the building.
I need to submit a planning application. How do I do this, and how long will it take?
Applying for a change of use is a similar process to other planning applications. It uses the standard ‘Full Planning Permission’ form, which includes a section on the changes in use classification of the building in question.
This process typically takes 12 weeks. However, this may vary due to the complexity (or simplicity) of your project.
To ensure that the application goes through as smoothly as possible, it helps to provide as much information as you can. This can include but is not limited to: the type of use that you wish to apply for; the floor areas of the building in question; the number of employees you are likely to have; opening hours, and the number of parking and cycle spaces to be provided.
That’s great. So now I have my planning permission, am I all sorted?
Not entirely, I’m afraid.
While we have dealt with the legal use of the building, you must also consider Building Regulations.
Building Regulations control all aspects of a building’s construction and use, from construction materials and methods to energy efficiency and facilities available to those using the building in the foreseeable future.
When changing the use of an existing building, especially one that was not used commercially before, many things will need addressing, and probably upgrading, that will not have previously been considered.
These can include fire precautions and escape strategies; the energy efficiency of the building in its new use; disabled access; and, if food preparation is now part of the building’s use, hygiene. Further details can be found on the Planning Portal.
How long will all this take?
Unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer to this question. The change of use and the resultant work involved varies significantly from project to project. The whole process can take from a few weeks to several months. However, we will always ensure that we help you with all stages of the process, from form filling to anticipating the level of information required at each stage.
Is there anything else I need to consider?
While this is far from a comprehensive guide to the process, it should give you some insight into what is involved when converting your building to commercial use.
Allow plenty of time, and always try to have more information than you think is necessary. In our experience, there will often be times when a lot is still not enough.
For further information, please refer to the Planning Portal, or contact us on 01530 560939 or via the form below. We will be happy to discuss your project further.