Which use class is my building?
“Which use class?” is a very common question that many ask on a regular basis. This page will hopefully dispel some of the myths and maybe save a few phone calls in the task of answering the question!
Can I call the Planning Department/Local Authority/Vicar?
Okay, maybe not the Vicar, but there is no point in phoning anyone! Although maybe the Vicar can help if it is a church? The simple fact is that there is no list held by anyone. There even used to be a rather poor app that was supposed to give you the use class of any building – it can’t. No app can – it can guess, but that is all it is, a guess. There is no list. If the local authority says put in a pre-app and we will tell you, don’t. There is no list! Even previous planning applications given by the LPA is no guarantee, as the application may not have implemented the permission. Hopefully that is the most common myth dispelled.
Okay, so no list – but how can I tell?
This is where you need to be a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple. You will need to prove it yourself or with the help of your friendly planning consultant.
- What was the building used for when it was open?
- Look at Google Street View and go back in time via the small clock in the top left of the screen. Are there any A boards or other signage that will help? Make a note of the dates.
- Look up the building on the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) website – how does that describe the building for business rates? Maybe check more than one year if applicable?
- Ask neighbours to the building – can they help?
- Can you obtain any old leases or other agreements to support your case?
- Did anyone work there – local Facebook groups might help?
- Was it owned by a public body? If so try a Freedom of Information (FOI) request
- Are there any planning applications for a previous change of use? Although note that previous planning on its own is no guarantee as you are not obliged to enact any planning permission.
As you can see from the list above, and there may be other sources of information, you may need to be able to prove it. If the local authority isn’t keen on the conversion under the GPDO they might be inclined to refuse it as they feel that it wasn’t what you think it was.
I think I now know what it is – or do you?!
Great! However before you submit your application, there are a couple of reasons why it might not be what you think it is! Is the unit ancillary to another building or another section of the building. A section of offices might actually be B1(c) because they are ancillary to a factory unit adjoining the offices. I have known offices to be B1(b) with no units even close by, because the inspectorate ruled that the offices were ancillary to a unit in another town making pharmaceutical products! If the section can be shown to be a separate planning unit from another part of the building then you may well be fine. This is where a good planning consultant should be able to help.
Where a property is in two use classes – then it will be classed as sui generis. The one exception is a building with B1 & B2 use as long as the section allocated to B2 is not substantially increased.
Some planning applications might have placed the property straight into sui generis. For example Class R could be a sui generis office.
It’s been empty for a long time, but I’m confident of the use class – all okay now?
Maybe, maybe not! Sorry! Has the building been abandoned? If it has then it will have no use class and full planning will be required. Obviously if the building is demolished the use class will also cease. But how long is long enough to be abandoned? The issue here is that there is no set period of time. If a property is derelict, has no utilities and needs to be totally rebuilt then it is likely that it may well be considered abandoned and have lost any use class. If it has been left for ten to fifteen years you might be fine – but again there is no period set out in planning law to my knowledge. So the state of the building will probably come into play.
Not abandoned, I think I can prove it – what now?
Great! Well done! Either go ahead and submit your planning application as required along with any evidence required or maybe request from the local authority a Certificate of Lawful Existing Use (CLUED) to prove that the existing use as you have identified is legal. In some circumstances a Certificate of Lawfulness of Proposed Use or Development (CLOPUD) might be applied for instead. See our page on Lawful Development Certificates for more.
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