Planning use classes

Converting or changing your property without the need for planning consent

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Planning ‘Use Classes’

Depending on the ‘use class’ that applies to your property, it may be possible to change the use without the need for planning consent.

There are 4 broad classes – A, B, C & D:-



  • A1 Shops including retail warehouses, hairdressers, travel agencies, post offices (but not sorting offices), pet shops, sandwich bars, showrooms, dry cleaners, and funeral directors.
  • A2 Financial and professional services – eg banks and building societies, estate agents and betting offices.
  • A3 Restaurants and cafés – sale of food and drink for consumption on the premises – restaurants, snack bars and cafes.
  • A4 Drinking establishments – Public houses, wine bars etc (but not night clubs).
  • A5 Hot food takeaways – sale of hot food for consumption off the premises.
  • B1 Business – Offices (except A2), research and development of products and processes, light industry suitable for residential areas.
  • B2 General industrial – for industrial processes (excluding incineration, chemical treatment, landfill or hazardous waste).
  • B8 Storage or distribution eg warehouses
  • C1 Hotels and guest houses (excludes hostels).
  • C2 Residential institutions – Residential care homes, hospitals, nursing homes, boarding schools and training centres etc.
  • C2A Secure Residential Institution – eg prisons, detention centres, barracks etc.
  • C3 Dwelling houses – this class is divided into 3 parts:
    • a/ occupied by a single person or a family, an employer or domestic employees, a carer and the person receiving the care and a foster parent and foster child.
    • b/ occupied by up to 6 people living togetheras a single household and receiving care e.g. people with learning disabilities or mental health problems.
    • c/ occupied by groups of up to 6 people living together as a single household eg homeowners with lodgers
  • C4 Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO)- shared houses occupied by between 3 and 6 unrelated individuals, as their only or main residence, who share basic amenities such as a kitchen or bathroom.
  • D1 Non-residential institutions – Clinics, health centres, crèches, day nurseries, day centres, schools, art galleries, museums, libraries, halls, places of worship, church halls, law court. Non-residential education and training centres.
  • D2 Assembly and leisure – Cinemas, music and concert halls, bingo and dance halls (but not night clubs), swimming baths, skating rinks, gymnasiums or area for indoor or outdoor sports and recreations (except for motor sports, or where firearms are used).
  • ‘Sui Generis’ – covers anything else including: theatres, hostels providing no significant element of care, scrap yards. Petrol filling stations and shops selling and/or displaying motor vehicles. Retail warehouse clubs, nightclubs, launderettes, taxi businesses, amusement centres and casinos.


Changes you can make without consent

In many cases a change of use of a building does not need planning permission. This normally applies when the existing use and the proposed new use are within the same class, or count as ‘permitted development’. For example, a food shop could be changed to a shoe shop without permission as these uses fall within the same ‘class’. Or a restaurant could be changed to a shop or an estate agency as the Use Class Order permits this as ‘permitted development’. If this all sounds too good to be true, you’re right – there’s a sting in the tail. If you need to carry out any external building work to the building it’s likely to require planning permission. And of course most building work will also need to comply with the Building Regulations. So an application will need to be made.

From To
A1 shops Same plus up to 2 new flats above the shop
A2 professional and financial services Same plus up to 2 new flats above the shop
A2 professional and financial services A1 shop
A3 restaurants and cafes A1 or A2
A4 drinking establishments A1 or A2 or A3
A5 hot food takeaways A1 or A2 or A3
B1 business (up to max 500 sq m floor space) B8 storage and distribution
B1a offices C3  dwelling houses / flats
B2 general industrial B1 business
B2 general industrial (up to max 500 sq m floor space) B8 storage and distribution
B8 storage and distribution (up to max 500 sq m floor space) B1 business
C3 dwelling houses C4 houses in multiple occupation
C4 houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) C3 dwelling houses
Casinos (sui generis) D2 assembly and leisure




Additional measures

Additional change of use Permitted Development Rights:-

OFFICES (B1a) can change to C3 residentialsubject to gaining ‘prior approval’ from the Local Planning Authority ( e.g. for flood risk, highways/transport and contamination issues).  This also applies to conversions of light industrial buildings and launderettes, and the rules were relaxed on demolition of office buildings in 2016.

From August 2021  SHOPS and RETAIL uses can change to C3 residential –  subject to gaining ‘prior approval’ from the Local Planning Authority.

The accommodation created is subject to minimum space standards. This requires a minimum floor area (Gross Internal Area or GIA) for a new 1 bedroom, 1 person home (including conversions) is 37 sq metres.  For a 1 bed, 2 person home the floor area must be 50 sq metres, and all new homes have to provide adequate natual light.

Agricultural buildings under 500 sq m. can change to A1, A2, A3, B1, B8, C1 or D2. But ‘prior approval’ is required for buildings of 150 to 500 m2 (to assess flood risk, noise and highways impacts etc).

B1, C1, C2, C2A and D2 uses can change use permanently to a state-funded school (subject to prior approval of noise and highways/transport impacts).

Temporary change of use A1, A2, A3, A4, A5, B1, D1 and D2 uses are permitted to change use for a period of up two years to A1, A2, A3 and B1 uses.






Changing from one type of shop to another

A planning application is often not required to change from one type of shop to another. However, permission will be required to change from a retail shop to any of the following examples:

  1. A shop selling food and drink for the consumption on the premises, or hot food for the consumption off the premises (cafés, restaurants, take-aways, bars)
  2. An office
  3. An amusement arcade
  4. A launderette
  5. Motor vehicle showroom
  6. A taxi business
  7. Residential


FLATS above shops – warning!

In some cases it may now be possible for A1 uses (e.g. shops, hairdressers, travel agents) to become A3 (restaurants or cafes) without planning consent. This can have very serious implications for owners of flats above shops.

In 2015 the Government relaxed Permitted Development Rights (PDRs) so an existing A1 or A2 (financial or professional service offices) can be changed to restaurant use. This allows shop units of less than 150 sq metres to become A3 restaurants for a maximum of two years without neighbouring businesses or residents being consulted. After two years a formal planning review is required to determine whether the use can continue.

Most high-street lenders will not accept applications for flats above A3 restaurants etc due to the increased risks of fire, noise, cooking smells and, of course, diminished value. So this change to Permitted Development Rights may encourage mortgage valuers to down-value flats above shops, and could even make them unmortgageable.




Opening a café, bar, restaurant or take-away

If you are considering opening a café, restaurant or bar you will need to comply with several different requirements as follows: The following classes of uses

  • Class A3: Restaurants and cafés
  • Class A4: Drinking establishments
  • Class A5: Hot food take-aways

Sometimes you will see Estate Agents advertising premises with A3, A4 or A5 use. You should always check with Planning (Development Control) that the property has the necessary planning permission, and that there are no conditions attached to the permission that would prevent you from operating in the way that you wish. For example, there may be a condition restricting the opening hours, prohibiting a take away service or preventing a café being used as a bar or pub.