By Gillian Crump , Partner, Commercial Property Team

There are so many aspects to consider when looking for new business premises, but one which must not be forgotten is whether the building has planning permission for your proposed use.

Of course, not all buildings have planning permission – some may have been constructed or been put to their current purpose many years before planning legislation was first introduced, even these buildings will have an existing use in planning terms and you must check whether that use covers your proposed usage.

Not to check this can be costly. At worst you may have wasted time and money on repairs renovations and fitting-out only to find that you are not permitted to use the building for the purpose you acquired it or are required by enforcement proceedings to stop that use. At best you may find that there are significant delays and costs after completing your purchase or lease in obtaining planning permission or confirmation from the local authority that your development is lawful.

The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 puts uses of land into various categories known as use classes. If your proposed use falls within the same use class as the previous occupant, then you will not generally need planning permission to change the use (though you might still need it to make changes to the building). There are also some exceptions which allow you to change use from one class to another, for example from A3 (restaurants and cafes) to A1 (shops, hairdressers and various other uses), B.1(a) (certain office uses) and B8 (storage and distribution) which can be inter-changed, or the new class Q which permits a change from agricultural use to residential use provided certain conditions are met.

Another point to be aware of is that there are certain uses which are regarded as being in a category of their own (sui generis) so that they don’t fall within any of the existing use classes and will always need planning permission. Some of these uses are relatively unusual, such as a theatre, which might be expected to fall into the same category as cinemas, concert halls and dance halls but does not. Others are not at all unusual, for example a nail bar or beauty salon, which does not fall into the same use class as a shop or a hairdressing salon. Petrol stations, launderettes and taxi businesses are also uses which will always need a planning permission.

If you have any concerns as to whether your proposed use of property will be lawful without obtaining planning permission do please consult us before you proceed. For more information about our Commercial Property services, please contact a member of the Commercial Property team on 01244 356 789 or email


Please note: This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.


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