The introduction of the new use class, Class E, in the summer of 2020 was seen by many as perhaps the biggest single change to the planning system introduced this year.
The rationale for this claim was that Class E ostensibly offering greater flexibility to make best use of vacant high street premises, allowing shops, restaurants, offices together with clinics, health centres, nurseries and indoor recreational facilities to become, in planning use terms, interchangeable. The possibly unintended impacts upon the larger edge of town business and retail parks could be profound and uncontrollable.
Last week however MHCLG suggested extending this flexibility further potentially allowing any of these Class E uses to also change into dwellings.
The rationale for this proposal is the success in securing some 72,000 new dwellings over the past 5 years from such conversions. Whether a solution that has delivered some 14,000 of the required 300,000 new dwellings per annum (and too often of poor quality space and design standards) is the right target for further growth is a moot point.
Whilst the previous prior approval opportunities to convert shops into dwellings came with a maximum floorspace threshold and the opportunity for the planning authority to consider the desirability of the change of use, the current consultation suggests that there is no size limit on residential conversions and potentially no assessment of suitability and context.
As ever, however, there is some small print, including the recent acknowledgement that dwellings promoted under the prior approval would in future need to meet minimum space standards and provide adequate natural light into habitable rooms. This issue will provide a significant design challenge for the more typical deep plan superstore / industrial unit where access to windows and external elevations are generally limited by design.
Chapman Lily’s John Hammond commented: “Given that Class E has only been available to property owners since the 1st September it is far too early to say whether the enhanced flexibility it brings is the right or indeed effective solution for the high street. Whether the possible incentive to move directly to a residential re-use is ultimately beneficial to the high street in a post Covid world remains to be seen.”
If you have an interest in commercial property and would like advice upon your options for future uses Chapman Lily are well placed to advise you and guide you through the process.