All change – what the new use class orders mean for the high street

26 August, 2020

The high street has been at death’s door for over a decade and finally it has the chance to live again.

I have lost count of the number of events I’ve attended about the future of the high street. Each one had an interesting idea or two but the barrier to anything much happening was planning.

The inflexible use class designation is a regime that has attempted to hold the high street in aspic. Although the rules have already been relaxed to allow more flexibility between classes, many councils continue to insist that the majority of high street frontages must be retail.

But this week heralds the most significant change to use classes since they were introduced in 1987.

An ongoing story

The high street’s future has been debated many times. The latest initiative, the Government’s £1billion Future High Streets Fund is more generous than previous ones but has been put on hold because of the pandemic. But even if the programme gets going again, successful bids will wonder if their plans are still viable.

Before the pandemic, high streets were reinventing themselves as food and leisure destinations as travel agents, video rental stores and banks became cafes, bars and restaurants. But coronavirus has hit the casual dining sector harder than any other with well-known chains laying off staff and closing down sites.

It has also hit high street shops. Arguably it simply accelerated the trend to online shopping that was happening anyway yet the speed of the transformation poses more profound and urgent questions for the high street than the ones addressed by either the Mayor of London’s recent high street guidance or by the Government’s High Streets Task Force.

Albeit devastating to bricks-and-mortar businesses, the pandemic has created an opportunity to rethink and redesign the high street so it’s less reliant on buying and more on living and working.

The biggest change is a brand new Class E that’s being called the ‘high street class’. Anything in this class can be converted from one use to another without planning permission. This will allow high streets to become places that offer recreation, wellbeing facilities, flexible office space and much else.

What are the changes? 

The new Class E contains: Legacy Use Classes
Shops A1
Professional and financial services A2
Restaurants and cafés A3
Offices excluding A2 B1a
Research and development B1b
Light industry B1c
Clinics, health centres, creches, day nurseries, day centres D1
Gyms and indoor recreation D2


Class F1 is for non-residential institutions and places of learning Legacy Use Classes
Schools, non-residential education and training centres D1
Museums, public libraries, public halls, exhibition areas D1
Places of worship, law courts D1


Class F2 for buildings in use by the local community Legacy Use Classes
Town halls or local community meeting place D2
Indoor or outdoor swimming pool D2
Skating rinks, outdoors sports, or recreation (not involving motors or firearms) D2
Shops less than 280m2 selling essential goods, with no neighbouring shops for 1km A1


Some buildings will be sui generis meaning they no longer have a class and will require planning permission for conversions – 
Legacy Use Classes
Pub or drinking establishment A4
Takeaway A5
Cinemas, concert halls, bingo halls and dance halls D2


Local authorities could resist the changes -there are a number of different ways they can stop conversions – and at the same time there is concern that new additions to permitted development rights will create more tiny, substandard homes. The loudest voice against the changes has come from architects. 

But as we face a long difficult autumn, there are lots of positive changes architects could be involved in.

Developer Collective will be running an online masterclass on New Use Classes and the High Street – opportunities for small developers. If you are interested in this and our other masterclasses, please pre-register here.