Nothing focuses the mind like a crisis. And while we are all attempting to put life back into some sort of order following the Covid19 lockdown, the disastrous effects of the pandemic on the High Street have not gone unnoticed.
Of course, planning has never been and never will be a slave to market forces, but Robert Jenrick’s drastic overhaul of the Use Classes Order is the strongest message yet that the Government wants a more market-driven approach to commercial growth and that local authorities are not the ones to deliver it.
You could argue that Covid is just the straw that broke the camel’s back; the high street – and Class A1 retail in particular – has been slowly suffocating for years. It has long been argued that the A1 use class is not fit for purpose. It harks back to sepia images of high streets with butchers, grocers, haberdashers and bakers, and gloriously fails in today’s nuanced world of composite uses, ancillary elements and the world of ‘experiential’ shopping.
So Robert Jenrick’s decision to lump A1 retail – along with A2 and A3 uses – into a new generic commercial use class with offices and gyms is a welcome move that brings long sought after flexibility into what has been an unyielding and inflexible system. The new Class E is a game changer for landlords and tenants alike.
This really throws a curve ball to the local authority policy planners. Past experience tells us that when planning ministers attempt to deregulate, local authorities seek to frustrate. When the Government introduced permitted development rights for office to residential conversions in 2013, councils immediately responded with Article 4 directions removing the right. The same thing happened with A1 to A2 rights and we suspect many a chief planner will be plotting right now to take back some level of control, both through the use of restrictive planning conditions on new permissions and some hastily written local plan revisions.
These are not the only changes, though. Among a raft of new measures, Jenrick has introduced new permitted development rights to demolish buildings and erect new dwellings, allow two storey upward extensions of purpose built flats, new residential storeys above shops and new residential dwellings above existing terraced and detached homes.
This all amounts to a huge shake-up of permitted rights, none of which have yet been tested in practice. There is some devil in the detail, there always is, but the Rolfe Judd Planning team can help guide you through the process.
See further details on the planning changes here – New Planning Legislation – All Change