House of Commons Library

Planning: change of use

Published Thursday, May 9, 2019

Certain changes of use can be done without planning permission, using what are known as permitted development rights (PDRs). This briefing explains use classes and PDRs, examines recent changes and proposals for further change and looks in depth at the controversy surrounding the PDR for change of use from office to residential accommodation.

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Use classes of land and buildings

The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 puts uses of land and buildings into various categories known as “use classes”. The categories give an indication of the types of use which may fall within each use class. There are four main categories:

  • Class A covers shops and other retail premises such as restaurants and bank branches
  • Class B covers offices, workshops, factories and warehouses
  • Class C covers residential uses and
  • Class D covers non-residential institutions and assembly and leisure uses.

These categories are then further split up into a number of subclasses. Not all uses are put into a use class; those that are not are called “sui generis”.

Permitted development rights

A further regulation, the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 (the 2015 Order) grants what are called “permitted development rights” (PDRs). PDRs are a right to develop without the need to apply for planning permission, although in some cases “prior approval” may be needed. Under the 2015 Order, planning permission is not needed for changes in use of buildings within each subclass and for certain changes of use between some of the classes.

In some circumstances, local planning authorities can suspend PDRs in their area, under Article 4 of the 2015 Order.

Changes since 2013

PDRs for change of use between use classes have been widened in various ways since 2013. Although governments have tended to characterise this as a positive step, allowing deregulation and supporting growth and regeneration and the creation of more homes, it has attracted some controversy. The conversion of office space to residential use has proved particularly controversial.

Changes made since 2013 have included

  • Betting and payday loan shops
  • Agricultural to residential change of use
  • Use of buildings as a state-funded school
  • Light industrial to residential change of use and
  • Change of use or demolition of pubs.

Office to residential change of use

The office to residential change of use PDR has proved controversial. It was originally a temporary three-year PDR but was put on a permanent footing from 6 April 2016.

Concerns about this PDR include the quality of the schemes, the loss of office space and a lack of developer funding for affordable housing and other local infrastructure that would have been required under planning permission. Arguments in favour of the policy are that it enables regeneration of empty, unproductive office space and contributes towards meeting the housing need; in response to a PQ in January 2019, the Housing Minister, Kit Malthouse, said that the PDR had delivered more than 42,000 homes, which met fire safety and other building regulations.

The controversy came to the fore again in April 2019, when the Shadow Housing Minister, John Healey, said that Labour would scrap this PDR, which had (he said) created “slum housing”.

Calls for further change

There are sometimes calls for additional controls on (for example) the change of use of shops, where it is felt that there are too many shops of one type on the high street.

In October 2018, the Government launched a consultation aimed (it said) at supporting the high street and increasing the delivery of new homes by (amongst other things) increasing PDRs.

Proposed PDR to extend upwards

One of the changes proposed in the October 2018 consultation was to allow certain types of building to be extended upwards.

Demolition of commercial buildings to provide new housing

Another of the changes outlined in the October 2018 consultation was to explore permitting the demolition of commercial buildings to provide new housing.

Other changes proposed in the October 2018 consultation

Other areas where the Government proposed to create or amend PDRs were to

  • Allow greater change of use to support high streets to adapt and diversify, to facilitate more leisure and community uses and office use as well as homes.
  • Remove the existing PDR for the installation of, and advertising on, new public call boxes
  • Increase size limits for off-street electric vehicle charging points and
  • Make permanent two time-limited PDRs relating to change of use from storage or distribution to residential use and larger single-storey rear extensions to houses.

The Government’s plans for changes to PDRs were outlined in a Written Statement in March 2019, and in its response to the October 2018 consultation. The Town and Country Planning (Permitted Development, Advertisement and Compensation Amendments) (England) Regulations 2019 were laid before Parliament on 3 May 2019, to come into force on 25 May 2019.

This briefing paper applies to England only - for information about use classes in the other UK countries, see section 9 of the joint Library briefing Comparison of the planning systems in the four UK countries: 2016 update.

Commons Library briefings on other aspects of planning can be found on the topic page for housing and planning.


Commons Briefing papers SN01301

Authors: Gabrielle Garton Grimwood; Cassie Barton

Topic: Planning

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