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New property classifications offer opportunity to repurpose high street

PUBLISHED: 10:57 26 August 2020

Debenhams in Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Debenhams in Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Archant

Arnolds Keys managing partner Guy Gowing explains the Use Classes Order.

Guy Gowing   Picture: Arnolds KeysGuy Gowing Picture: Arnolds Keys

From Tuesday, September 1, changes in the classification of commercial buildings will allow for increased flexibility and represents a fantastic opportunity to reinvigorate the high street. The shake up of the Use Classes Order, which will remove the requirement for planning permission across a swathe of current restrictions, reflects an underlying desire to rejuvenate our high streets and town centres.

Where once there was red tape and bureaucracy there now appears a far easier path for individuals or companies wishing to change the use of a building. The aim is to provide flexibility for developers and investors at 
a time when many city centres and high streets are in need of repurposing.

With a few exceptions, Classes A1-3 (retail and restaurant), B1 (offices and light industrial) and D1 (education and meeting) will be amalgamated into a newly created Class E: commercial business and service. This includes offices and light industrial, medical establishments such as health centres and clinics, nurseries and indoor sports centres. The new class also covers retail, financial and professional services, cafés and restaurants.

Class E allows for a greater mix of uses, reflecting shifting retail needs. It will also allow buildings to be used flexibly – for example with different uses happening concurrently or at different times of day.

The new system also sees the creation of Class F1 (learning and non-residential institutions, e.g. schools, museums and churches) and F2 (local community uses or swimming baths) which were previously classified as D1 and D2 respectively.

Is this a reaction to the risk of an economic downturn affecting the country? Quite possibly. But it is certainly a reaction to changing shopping habits, accelerated during the lockdown, which have magnified the need for flexibility – and which have brought forward 
a plan that had already been drafted.

It is to everyone’s disadvantage to see retail units sitting empty, and this change will allow for a repurpose without potentially lengthy planning delays. There are exceptions to every rule and, in this case, they appear to protect high streets from being overrun by hot food takeaways and drinking establishments, which will continue to require planning permission. In theory, the Debenhams building on Orford Place could be used as a factory without planning consent – however unlikely that may be!

The question is: how will the landscape change? When Permitted Development Rights were introduced in 2015, local authorities were unhappy and there followed an attempt to gain back localised powers. It seems unlikely that councils will surrender the ability to mould the shape of the local surroundings, particularly with the proposed extension to Permitted Development Rights.

As the last six months have demonstrated, in this new world where the fragility of certain businesses has been exposed, some flexibility is very welcome 
to allow our economy to begin 
to recover.

For more information please visit www.arnoldskeys.com


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