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In the whirlwind of the past three years, the introduction of Use Class E in September 2020 marked a pivotal moment in the UK’s approach to urban development. Born out of the challenges posed by a global pandemic and the struggles of traditional high streets, this shake-up aimed to streamline the Use Classes Order, ushering in a new era of mixed-use town centres. Inspire Legal, a leading solicitor in Scarborough, can assist you with commercial conveyancing

Use Class E brought together a myriad of uses encompassing commercial, business, and service activities, consolidating categories that previously fell under A (shops, financial services, cafes/restaurants), B1 (offices, R&D, minor industrial processes), and D (clinics, health centres, nurseries, gyms). While the intention was to foster vibrant, mixed-use town centres and grant businesses greater flexibility, the journey of Class E has been nothing short of eventful.

The initial response to the introduction of Class E was met with mixed feelings. Challenges arose, leading to a judicial review, which, after due scrutiny, was dismissed by the Court of Appeal in December 2021. Contentious points included the reclassification of pubs and takeaways and the introduction of permitted development rights for changes between Class E and residential (Class C3), prompting some authorities to restrict these rights through Article 4 Directions.

For sites with pre-existing permissions specifying historic uses, the transition to Class E generally occurred, allowing changes within this class without requiring planning permission, provided no express conditions or obligations restricted such changes and no additional planning permissions were necessary.

A study commissioned by the Planning Advisory Service in June 2022 assessed the impact of Class E on town centres and high streets. While data was limited, feedback suggested increased adaptation of existing premises, with a rise in cafes, restaurants, and additional office space. However, potential unintended consequences, such as the loss of ‘active’ frontages and impacts on residential amenity, were noted.

Despite the broad opportunities offered by Class E, challenges persist. Many pre-existing planning permissions include conditions restricting use or are subject to planning obligations, limiting the full benefits of Class E. A recent High Court case emphasized the importance of precise conditions in planning permissions, reinforcing the idea that local authorities can still impose limitations.

Looking ahead, while the expansive range of uses under Class E offers developers and decision-makers exciting prospects, careful consideration of existing planning conditions and active dialogue with local authorities remain imperative to navigate potential restrictions and maximize future flexibility.

Rashpal Kaur – Commercial & Property Consultant Solicitor

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