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Explained: change of use and use classes

Our planners run through the ins and outs of 'use classes' and how you can apply for a 'change of use' when it comes to creating a dream renovation.

7 min read

When facing the nitty gritty world of planning legislation, many homeowners can find themselves becoming lost in the jargon. No more so than with Use Classes.

Use classes are categories used by local authorities to define what purpose, and what best practices, a building should have. You’ll most likely encounter this area of planning if you’re converting a detached garage into an annex, or if you plan on converting a church or shop into a new home.

Let’s dive a little deeper into this admin world…

Types of Use Classes

In September 2020, several use classes were revoked, including Class A, B, and D, while other classifications were changed. The below breakdown of use classes is accurate as of January 2022.

If you have any questions about what use class your building might come under, you can book a free consultation with our team here.

Class B

  • B2 General industrial - Buildings that have an industrial purpose (excluding incineration purposes, chemical treatment or landfill or hazardous waste)
  • B8 Storage or distribution - this class also includes open air storage.

Class C

  • C1 Hotels - Hotels, boarding and guest houses where no significant element of care is provided (excludes hostels)
  • C2 Residential institutions - Residential care homes, hospitals, nursing homes, boarding schools, residential colleges and training centres
  • C2A Secure Residential Institution - Use for a provision of secure residential accommodation, including use as a prison, young offenders institution, detention centre, secure training centre, custody centre, short term holding centre, secure hospital, secure local authority accommodation or use as a military barracks

C3 Dwellinghouses - This class is formed of three parts

  • C3(a) covers use by a single person or a family (a couple whether married or not, a person related to one another with members of the family of one of the couple to be treated as members of the family of the other), an employer and certain domestic employees (such as an au pair, nanny, nurse, governess, servant, chauffeur, gardener, secretary and personal assistant), a carer and the person receiving the care and a foster parent and foster child
  • C3(b) covers up to six people living together as a single household and receiving care e.g. supported housing schemes such as those for people with learning disabilities or mental health problems
  • C3(c) allows for groups of people (up to six) living together as a single household. This allows for those groupings that do not fall within the C4 HMO definition, but which fell within the previous C3 use class, to be provided for i.e. a small religious community may fall into this section as could a homeowner who is living with a lodger
  • C4 Houses in multiple occupation - Small shared houses occupied by between three and six unrelated individuals, as their only or main residence, who share basic amenities such as a kitchen or bathroom.

Class E - Commercial, Business and Service

  • E(a) Display or retail sale of goods, other than hot food
  • E(b) Sale of food and drink for consumption (mostly) on the premises
  • E(c) Provision of E(c)(i) financial services; E(c)(ii) professional services (other than health or medical services); or E(c)(iii) other appropriate services in a commercial, business or service locality
  • E(d) Indoor sport, recreation or fitness (not involving motorised vehicles or firearms or use as a swimming pool or skating rink,)
  • E(e) Provision of medical or health services (except the use of premises attached to the residence of the consultant or practitioner)
  • E(f) Creche, day nursery or day centre (not including a residential use)
  • E(g) Uses which can be carried out in a residential area without detriment to its amenity, including: E(g)(i) offices to carry out any operational or administrative functions; E(g)(ii) research and development of products or processes; E(g)(iii) Industrial processes

Class F - Local Community and Learning

F1 Learning and non-residential institutions – Use (not including residential use) defined in 7 parts:

  • F1(a) Provision of education
  • F1(b) Display of works of art (otherwise than for sale or hire)
  • F1(c) Museums
  • F1(d) Public libraries or public reading rooms
  • F1(e) Public halls or exhibition halls
  • F1(f) Public worship or religious instruction (or in connection with such use)
  • F1(g) Law courts

F2 Local community – Use as defined in 4 parts:

  • F2(a) Shops (mostly) selling essential goods, including food, where the shop’s premises do not exceed 280 square metres and there is no other such facility within 1000 metres
  • F2(b) Halls or meeting places for the principal use of the local community
  • F2(c) Areas or places for outdoor sport or recreation (not involving motorised vehicles or firearms)
  • F2(d) Indoor or outdoor swimming pools or skating rinks

Sui Generis

Literally translating to ‘in a class of its own’, the buildings in this categorically sit outside of any given use class. Each one comes with its own rules and regulations, so if your building sits in this list, you’ll need a little extra guidance to make sure you select the correct planning route.

Sui Generis buildings include…

  • theatres
  • amusement arcades/centres or funfairs
  • launderettes
  • fuel stations
  • hiring, selling and/or displaying motor vehicles
  • taxi businesses
  • scrap yards, or a yard for the storage/distribution of minerals and/or the breaking of motor vehicles
  • ‘alkali work’ (any work registerable under the alkali, etc. works regulation act 1906 (as amended))
  • hostels (providing no significant element of care)
  • waste disposal installations for the incineration, chemical treatment or landfill of hazardous waste
  • retail warehouse clubs
  • nightclubs
  • casinos
  • betting offices/shops
  • pay day loan shops
  • public houses, wine bars, or drinking establishments
  • drinking establishments with expanded food provision
  • hot food takeaways (for the sale of hot food where consumption of that food is mostly undertaken off the premises)
  • venues for live music performance
  • cinemas
  • concert halls
  • bingo halls
  • dance halls

Rules to consider

Now there are some rules to help homeowners sitting on a home that’s not in the correct use class. In no way should these be used as a sneaky way to avoid planning permission, but can prove helpful if you’ve inadvertently bought a home that’s suffered from bad planning in the past.

The four year rule

This applies to a property that has been converted into a single dwelling house, but the change of use occurred more than four years ago. If this is the case, the change of use becomes legal and is immune from enforcement action.

However, if there is evidence that you deliberately concealed your development from your local authority, this rule might not apply. For this reason, it’s best to get expert legal advice.

The ten year rule

Similar to the four year rule, but it applies to everything that isn’t a single dwelling house. For example, if you ran a beauty salon from your garage, this would be subject to this rule, if proper planning hadn’t already been obtained.

Again, this rule can be made void, if you’re found guilty of deliberate deception.

Do I need to apply for a change of use class?

Not all changes of use require a full planning application, some will come under permitted development rights. Those that are classed as permitted development will either require prior approval or you’ll need to apply for a lawful development certificate. Whichever route you choose, we always recommend you either consult an architect or your local authority. The rules are complex and many buildings have their own unique requirements, so you really need that expert guidance!

One of the most common projects we encounter - as a home improvement platform - is the desire to convert a commercial building into a new home (technically called a C3 ‘dwelling house’).

If this applies to you, here is a list of commercial properties that you may be able to convert under permitted development.

  • Any building in Class E, such as retail shops, restaurants, fitness centres, nurseries, and offices.
  • Agricultural buildings
  • Amusement centres
  • Betting offices
  • Casinos
  • Takeaway shops
  • Launderettes
  • Payday loan shops
  • Pubs

Learn more: converting commercial buildings to residential

How to apply for change of use class?

Applying for a change of use involves going through your local planning authority. You’ll either need to undergo…

  • A full planning application
  • Prior approval
  • Obtaining a lawful development certificate

Which route you go down will depend on the current use class, what use class you want to switch to, and your location. For example, you’ll need to find out if the land or the building itself are designated/protected. Local authorities can also block permitted development rights in certain areas.

In order to be successful, a planning package should include:

  • Existing and proposed floor plans, elevations along with block and site location plans
  • Supporting documentation, including certification of ownership and a design and access statement
  • Completed planning application form, including change of use forms
  • A fee

Want to make sure you secure permission the first time round? Getting an architect to act as your planning agent gives you the best chance of early success. Not only will they have dealt with hundreds of similar projects, and so know the forms inside out, they’ll also be able to liaise with your local authority and make ad hoc changes - should they be required.

Use classes still got you scratching your head? We offer free consultations to all homeowners, with our experts happy to answer any burning questions you might have. Book yours today.

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