Planning Permission and Use Classes When Buying a Commercial Property

Commercial Property Buying Guide

Choosing a commercial property is often dependant on the class type that the property fits into. Read our article on the different property classes and the planning permission factors you should be aware of.


Learn About Planning Permission and Use Classes for Commercial Properties

Commercial properties are covered by The Town and Country Planning (Uses Classes) Order 1987, which divides the uses of business properties and land into different categories.
Please see the list below, which indicates the class types and how they can be utilised.

A1: Shops A2: Financial and Professional Services A3: Restaurants and Cafes
A4: Drinking Establishments A5: Hot Food Takeaways
B1: Businesses B2: General Industrial B8: Storage and Distribution
C1: Hotels C2: Residential Institutions C2A: Secure Residential Institutions
C3: Dwelling Houses C4: Houses in Multiple Occupation
D1: Non-Residential Institutions D2: Assembly and Leisure Sui Generis
B3 – B7: Special Industrial Group A – E

*Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence (Updated 08 February 2017)

It is not widely understood that, in some cases, the use of a commercial property can be altered without reference to the local authority – i.e. from A5 takeaways to A1 shops. However A3 restaurant to A5 takeaways use is not automatic. Please see below the comprehensive list of changes of use that do not require planning permission.

From To
A1: Shops A2: Financial and Professional Services
A3: Restaurants and Cafes (subject to prior approval)
C3: Dwelling Houses (subject to prior approval)
D2: Assembly and Leisure (subject to prior approval)
A2: Financial and Professional Services (when properties have a display window at ground level) A1: Shops
A3: Restaurants and Cafes (subject to prior approval)
C3: Dwelling Houses (subject to prior approval)
D2: Assembly and Leisure (subject to prior approval)
A3: Restaurant and Cafes A1: Shops
A2: Financial and Professional Services
A4: Drinking Establishments A1: Shops
A2: Financial and Professional Services
A3: Restaurants and Cafes
A5: Hot Takeaways A1: Shops
A2: Financial and Professional Services
A3: Restaurants and Cafes
B1: Businesses (less than 235 sq m of floor space) B8: Storage and Distribution
B2: General Industrial B1: Businesses
B2: General Industrial (less than 235 sq m of floor space) B8: Storage and Distribution
B8: Storage and Distribution (less than 235 sq m of floor space) B1: Businesses
C3: Dwelling Houses C4: Houses in Multiple Locatio
C4: Houses in Multiple Location C3: Dwelling Houses
Sui Generis: Casinos D2: Assembly and Leisure
A3: Restaurant and Cafes (subject to prior approval)
Sui Generis: Betting Shops and Payday Loan Shops A1: Shops
A2: Financial and Professional Services
C3: Dwelling Houses (subject to prior approval)
Sui Generis: Agricultural Premises A1: Shops
A2: Financial and Professional Services
A3: Restaurant and Cafes
B1: Businesses
B8: Storage and Distribution
C1: Hotels
C3: Dwelling Houses (subject to prior approval)
D2: Assembly and Leisure (subject to prior approval)

*Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence (Updated 08 February 2017)

This is not a definitive list. Careful research should be undertaken and you should seek professional advice regarding the intended use.

Please see the table below, showing what types of use fall within each category.

A1: Shops Shops, retail warehouses, hairdressers, undertakers, travel and ticket agencies, post office (not sorting offices), pet shops, sandwich bars, showrooms, domestic hire shops, dry cleaners, funeral directors and Internet cafes
A2: Financial and Professional Services Financial Services such as banks and building societies, estate and employment agencies, professional services (other than health services, pay day loan and betting shops)
A3: Restaurants and Cafes For the sale of food and drink for consumption on the premises – restaurants, snack bars and cafes
A4: Drinking Establishments Public houses, wine bars or other drinking establishments (but not night clubs).
A5: Hot Food Takeaways For the sale of hot food for consumption off the premises
B1: Businesses Offices (other than those fall within A2 use), Research and development of products and processes, Light industry appropriate in a residential area
B2: General Industrial Use for industrial process other than those fall within class B1 (excluding incineration purposes, chemical treatment or landfill or hazardous waste)
B8: Storage or Distribution Including open air storage.
C1: Hotels Hotels, boarding and guest houses where no significant element of care is provided (excludes hostels).
C2: Residential Institutions Residential care homes, hospitals, nursing homes, boarding schools, residential colleges and training centres.
C2A: Secure Residential Institutions Use for a provision of secure residential accommodation, including use as a prison, young offenders institution, detention centre, secure training centre, custody centre, short term holding centre, secure hospital, secure local authority accommodation or use as a military barracks.
C3: Dwelling Houses This class is formed of 3 parts:
C3(a) covers use by a single person or a family (a couple whether married or not, a person related to one another with members of the family of one of the couple to be treated as members of the family of the other), an employer and certain domestic employees (such as an au pair, nanny, nurse, governess, servant, chauffeur, gardener, secretary and personal assistant), a carer and the person receiving the care and a foster parent and foster child.
C3(b): up to six people living together as a single household and receiving care e.g. supported housing schemes such as those for people with learning disabilities or mental health problems.
C3(c) allows for groups of people (up to six) living together as a single household. This allows for those groupings that do not fall within the C4 HMO definition, but which fell within the previous C3 use class, to be provided for i.e. a small religious community may fall into this section as could a homeowner who is living with a lodger.
C4: Houses in Multiple Occupation Small shared dwelling houses occupied by between three and six 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 (other than for sale or hire), 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 Certain uses do not fall within any use class and are considered ‘sui generis’. Such uses include: theatres, houses in multiple occupation, 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. Betting shops and Payday loan shops.

*Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence (Updated 08 February 2017)

Whether the property has planning permission should be stated in the ‘Heads Of Terms’ (HOTS) in order to avoid any confusion. If the property is without planning permission for your intended use and the class cannot be altered, then a formal planning application will be required. This can be a lengthy process and will usually take at least eight weeks or more. You may wish to make the purchase subject to receipt of satisfactory planning permission and if so, it should be clearly set out in the HOTS.

Planning Permission

Planning is a complex field, which requires specialist knowledge. A change of use application is relatively straight forward. However, a full planning application may contain certain elements that require professional input such as, highway assessments or asbestos surveys etc.

Contacting your local authority is a good first step but you should bear in mind that local authorities can be extremely difficult to reach by telephone.

Click here to find your local authority contact details.

If you plan any major changes to the property, you may require the services of the following professionals:

  • Planning Services
  • Architect
  • Structural Engineers
  • Building Control Services
  • Project Management
  • Building Contractor
  • Quantity Surveyor
  • Space Planner

Other services may be required dependent on the building and the intended use.


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