town centre shop retail use planning photo


In England, the system of town and country planning regulates development in the public interest – i.e. when and where development should take place and where it should not.

A material change in the use of a building or land (‘change of use’) falls within the definition of ‘development’ for the purposes of planning.

For administration purposes, the uses of land and buildings in England are categorised into ‘Planning Use Classes’ as set out in the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 (as amended).

Planning permission is needed when proposals constitute a ‘material change of use’, i.e. between different Classes.  What constitutes a ‘material change’ is not defined within planning legislation and is a matter of fact and degree to be determined on the individual merits of each case.

Planning permission is not needed for a change from one use to another within the same Class – this is not ‘development’ (i.e. not a material change) and does not require a planning application.



Until September 2020, there were four Classes of use in planning, ‘A to D’.  However, these have been significantly altered. 

The previous use classes pre-2020 were:

Class B2          General Industrial
Class B8          Storage and distribution
Class C1           Hotels
Class C2          Residential institutions
Class C2A        Secure residential institutions
Class C3          Dwellinghouses
Class C4          Small Houses in multiple occupation
Class E            Commercial, Business and Service
Class F1          Learning and non-residential institutions
Class F2          Local community

More detail on what the individual use classes comprise is provided below.


National Planning Practice Guidance states that Class E (Commercial, Business and Service), introduced on 1st September 2020, includes a broad and diverse range of uses which principally serve the needs of visiting members of the public and or are suitable for a town centre area.

Class E allows for a mix of uses which recognises that a building may be in several different uses concurrently or be used for different uses at different times of the day.

The new Classes E, F1 and F2 replace the former A, B1 and D classes which are listed below with some uses also becoming ‘sui generis’ …

A1        Shops

Shops, retail warehouses, post offices, ticket and travel agents, hairdressers, funeral directors and undertakers, domestic hire shops, dry cleaners, sandwich bars – sandwiches or other cold food purchased and consumed off the premises, internet cafes.

Now split between Class E and F2

A2        Financial and Professional Services

Financial services including banks, building societies and bureau de change, professional services excluding health or medical services, estate agents and employment agencies, other services including betting offices, principally where services are provided to visiting members of the public.

Now split between Class E and sui generis

A3        Restaurants and Cafes

Restaurants, snack bars and cafes. Use for the sale of food for consumption on the premises.

Now Class E

A4        Pub or Drinking Establishment

Now sui generis

A5        Hot Food Takeaway

Now sui generis

B1        Business – including Offices

B1 (a): Offices other than in a use within class A2

B1 (b): Research and development – laboratories, studios.

B1 (c): Light industrial.

Now Class E

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 courts. Non- residential education and training centres.  

Now split between Class E and F1

D2        Assembly and Leisure

Cinemas, music and concert halls, bingo and dance halls (not nightclubs), swimming baths, skating rinks, gymnasiums or areas for indoor or outdoor sports and recreations (except for motor sports, or where firearms used).  

Now split between Class E and F1


The General Permitted Development Order as amended grants additional rights that allow changes of use between certain classes, subject to certain limitations and conditions being met.

Prior Approval may be required before some of the permitted development rights above can be implemented.  This will require an application to the local authority, albeit one of reduced scope compared to a full planning application.   Requirements, timescales and considerations for Prior Approval applications vary depending upon the use being applied for.

There may be conditions on a previous planning permission or other local restrictions, such as Article 4 Directions, which may limit or remove permitted development rights in some instances.

If there is any doubt at all as to whether planning permission is required for a change of use, professional advice or clarification from the local planning authority should be sought before work starts.


Permitted development rights related to planning use classes after 1st September 2020 are now ridiculously complex.

A brief summary  is provided below:

Class B2          General Industrial

General industry where the former ‘special industrial’ use classes, B3 – B7 are all now encompassed into the B2 class.

  • Permitted change to B8
Class B8          Storage and distribution

Storage or distribution centres.

  • Permitted change to C3 
Class C1          Hotels

Hotels, boarding houses and guest houses. Development falls within this class if ‘no significant element of care is provided’.

  • Permitted change to state-funded school
Class C2          Residential institutions

Hospitals, nursing homes, residential schools, training centres. Use for the provision of residential accommodation and care to people in need of care.

  • Permitted change to state-funded school
Class C2A        Secure residential institutions

Use for the 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, military barracks.

  • Permitted change to state-funded school 
Class C3          Dwellinghouses

C3 (a): single people or those living together as a single household i.e. a family, as defined by the Housing Act 2004.

C3 (b): up to six people living together as a single household and receiving care e.g. supported housing schemes.

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 definition.

  • Permitted change to Class C4
Class C4          Small Houses in multiple occupation

Houses in multiple occupation. Small shared dwellings occupied by between three and six unrelated individuals sharing basic amenities.

  • Permitted change to Class C3 
Class E            Commercial, Business and Service

E (a) Display or retail sale of goods, other than hot food

E (b) Sale of food and drink for consumption (mostly) on the premises

E (c) Provision of:

(i)  Financial services,

(ii)  Professional services (other than health or medical services), or

(iii)  Other appropriate services in a commercial, business or service locality

E (d) Indoor sport, recreation or fitness (not involving motorised vehicles or firearms)

E (e) Provision of medical or health services (except the use of premises attached to the residence of the consultant or practitioner)

E (f) Creche, day nursery or day centre (not including a residential use)

E (g) Uses which can be carried out in a residential area without detriment to its amenity:

(i)  Offices to carry out any operational or administrative functions,

(ii)  Research and development of products or processes

(iii)  Industrial processes

  • Permitted change to C3
  • Permitted change to E + up to two flats
  • Permitted change to state-funded school  
Class F1          Learning and non-residential institutions

F1 (a) Provision of education

F1 (b) Display of works of art (otherwise than for sale or hire)

F1 (c) Museums

F1 (d) Public libraries or public reading rooms

F1 (e) Public halls or exhibition halls

F1 (f) Public worship or religious instruction (or in connection with such use)

F1 (g) Law courts

Class F2          Local community

F2 (a) Shops (mostly) selling essential goods, including food, where the shop’s premises do not exceed 280 square metres and there is no other such facility within 1000 metres

F2 (b) Halls or meeting places for the principal use of the local community

F2 (c) Areas or places for outdoor sport or recreation (not involving motorised vehicles or firearms)

F2 (d) Indoor or outdoor swimming pools or skating rinks



Certain uses do not fall within any use class and are considered ‘sui generis’.  

Such uses include:

  • theatres,
  • hot food takeaways,
  • betting offices/shops,
  • cinemas,
  • concert/dance halls,
  • large houses in multiple occupation (more than 6 people),
  • petrol stations,
  • retail warehouse clubs,
  • amusement arcades,
  • laundrettes,
  • taxi or vehicle hire businesses,
  • the sale and display of motor vehicles,
  • nightclubs,
  • hostels,
  • builders yards,
  • scrap yards,
  • casinos. has an extensive catalogue of articles and guides which help explain the town planning system in England. 

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