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“Next stop, all change (of use) here”!


Helen Tilton, Bristol Director 

If revisions to planning legislation were like buses we’d be making great gains in sustainable travel at the moment, with three key amendments (*) arriving at once, relating to use classes and Permitted Development Rights.

The general theory is that the new rules will mean that full planning applications will not be required to demolish and rebuild unused buildings as homes, to extend or create new dwellings above existing premises, or to repurpose commercial premises and retail properties. 

In an open letter to Robert Jenrick, the RTPI, RIBA, RICS and CIOB have come together to express their concern that more Permitted Development Rights could ‘lock in’ unacceptable standards. Instead, these organisations are indicating that a holistic view of good design, place-making and building is required, recognising that development undertaken now will shape our communities in the future. 

Primarily, this should be seen as debate around securing a good quality of life.  


On the same day the government announced the expansion of Permitted Development regulations, it also published the findings of a report looking into the quality of homes delivered through that mechanism when compared to those created through a planning permission (**). The report includes a number of local authority perspectives, and concludes that the situation is more nuanced than a straightforward conclusion that only planning permissions can result in higher standards. However, the report also concludes that Permitted Development conversions are more likely to create worse quality residential environments in relation to a number of factors vital to the health, wellbeing and quality of life of future occupiers – namely relating to internal configuration and space standards, amenity space, and the nature of immediate neighbouring uses.

Use classes  

A general commercial, business, and service use class (Class E) will combine shops, professional services, cafes and restaurants, gyms and sports centres, health facilities, nurseries, offices, research and development, and light industrial uses. There will no longer be a need for planning permission to change between these uses (excluding food shops under 280sqm in size, but only if there are no others within 1km). The changes also effectively exclude – and so seek to protect – community facilities such as libraries, pubs, sports pitches, swimming pools, community halls, cinemas, and music venues. 

It’s generally accepted that the existing use classes don’t always reflect modern day occupier requirements and consumer expectations, and increased flexibility has for some time now been called for. That said, such a significant change to use classes will come as a shock for local plan makers where planning for spatial change is largely predicated on a more restrictive system. 

The uses that will now fall within a single use class can of course have very different characteristics and effects. Given the changes don’t appear to distinguish between size and location, they will affect rural and suburban areas and commercial hubs as much as they will affect major centres and high streets, where the implications could be markedly different.  

Leaving the market in control (aside from some legal, planning condition-related restrictions, or separate planning application requirements) means a loss of local authority influence and demonstrably changes how communities can engage with the places in which they live and work. 

There will be wider implications for strategies for development and investment beyond just planning, and if these new legislative changes are to be taken as a prelude to next week’s heralded policy paper, there is much more to come.  Many local authorities are viewing the prospect of significant policy change with some trepidation. 


  • The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020  
  • The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) (No. 3) Order 2020  
  • The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2020  



“Next stop, all change (of use) here”!