New Use Class Order Changing the Face of Our High Streets?

Retail property has an interesting future as a result of changes to the Use Classes Order. Historically, Local Planning Authorities up and down the country would have and continue to have planning policies in place that ringfence the High Street as ‘Primary Shopping Areas’ which are strictly for A1 Retail use only.

Any proposal to change a High Street shop to something else would often be met with resistance due to a set of typically inflexible retail planning policies. Protecting retail uses in town centres became synonymous with protecting the towns themselves.

However, the introduction of the new Use Class Order (UCO) on 1 September 2020 has become a watershed moment. The new UCO streamlines what were formerly known as A1, A2, A3, B1, D1 and D2 into a single use class, known as Class E – Commercial, Business and Service.

The new UCO reflects the fact its predecessor (which had barely changed since its inception in 1987), was rigid as it saw a variety of different uses boxed into pigeon holes from which it was too difficult to move from one to the other, unless they were broadly similar uses, particularly in town centres. This has led to the High Street becoming victim to our ever-increasing use of online retail sales, a situation only exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

We have become aware of a recent appeal decision that put the new UCO to test and it represents a triumph of common sense over rigid retail planning policies. In this case, the proposal was to change a shop into a restaurant.

A town centre – in this case the Finsbury Park Town Centre in Islington, North London – seems like a perfectly sensible location for a restaurant. Unfortunaltey, the Local Plan restricted new non-A1 uses in such a draconian way that it was seemingly preferable to have a boarded-up empty retail unit instead of a new restaurant.

The Inspector acknowledged that a simple shop-to-restaurant change would conflict with four out of the five criteria of the relevant policy. But the new UCO trumps these rigid retail policies as shops and restaurants are both in the new Class E and the appeal was allowed.

The new UCO applies not just in London, but across England. In these unprecedented times High Streets need flexibility in order to survive and retain their vitality.

For the first time in over 30 years it appears they will enjoy this flexibility as the Government has finally realised that protecting town centres is not all about protecting retail, but instead allowing a mix of commercial uses to co-exist.

If you have a town centre property and would like to know if you can take advantage of the new UCO, please contact feel free to get in contact with us.