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The Use Classes Order: Fit for now?

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There’s a growing case for a reconsideration of use classes amid changing shopping, working and leisure habits. Nigel Hewitson imagines a use classes order fit for the 21st century.

“Flexibility may well be the key to guarantee the continued viability of traditional office space” 

The way we live, work, shop and spend our leisure time – and consequently the way we use land – is changing faster than at almost any time in history. Yet the categorisation of uses currently contained in the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 (other than the deletion of various now-archaic uses – my favourite being ‘breeder of maggots from putrescible animal matter’!) – has changed remarkably little since the first Use Classes Order came into force in 1950.

The rise of the internet has meant that ever more of us shop online. In 2018, 10 per cent of total retail sales were online but, more alarmingly for our town centres, one survey found that 51 per cent of UK consumers prefer to shop online. It is no wonder that conventional retail stores – even household names – are disappearing with alarming rapidity.

The watchword for town centres needs to be flexibility – both more flexibility in the uses permitted in town centres and more flexibility in permitted changes of use to ensure continued vitality and to respond to the changing way we shop.

We should expect a growth in 21st century uses:

  • More and smaller pure click-and-collect units
  • Collection centres for Amazon parcels (for example), inevitably with drone facilities
  • ‘Reverse vending machine’ facilities where you can return recyclables (cans, bottles and so on) for small amounts of money
  • More leisure-related uses n Fewer out-and-out shops ;
  • ‘Touch down’ space with superfast broadband connection for agile workers
  • More leisure uses.

I envisage a new A1 use class that would encompass not just traditional shops and financial services (thus abolishing A2 – betting and pay-day loans having been made sui generis in 2015) but also many of the 21st century uses listed above. In town centres (but not in residential areas), I would also relax the distinctions between restaurants, pubs and takeaways (use classes A3-A5).

“Flexibility may well be the key to guarantee the continued viability of traditional office space” 

The internet also enables us to work more remotely from the traditional office. That, and the financial drive for employers to save costs by using less office space, has meant that more and more of us are working from home – often referred to as ‘telecommuting’. In April 2016, the Office for National Statistics found that 4.2 million people (around 15 per cent of the workforce) regularly worked from home, and some industry commentators believe this is set to increase to 50 per cent by 2020.

If the trend towards telecommuting continues, there will be two major effects: a reduction in the demand for office space (and the need to do something else with it) and changes to the way we use our homes.

Again, flexibility may well be the key to guarantee the continued viability of traditional office space. As office occupiers use less of the space available over time, consideration will need to be given to uses that might be suitable in existing and proposed office buildings.

Particularly in large office buildings, these might include small retail, food and drink units aimed primarily at the office workers, as well as other uses of interest to office workers such as gyms. These are certainly far better located in former office space than close to residential premises. Linking in with the changes to the high street, this may also include click-and-collect centres, enabling workers to get their online purchases delivered to where they are actually going to be during the day.

The other side of the telecommuting coin will be changes to the way we use our homes.

Case law already accepts that a business can lawfully be run from a home without the need for planning permission but, as the incidence of home/business use increases, it would be wise to redefine ‘dwelling’ to expressly include home working and set parameters to the levels of disturbance other residents can reasonably be expected to put up with. It may even be that we reinvent live/work units as a new use class to establish control over businesses in residential areas.   

In brief  

  • The way we live, work, shop and spend our leisure is changing fast 
  • Existing use classes are no longer able to accommodate our land use requirements 
  • We should revise town centre use classes, but particularly a new use class that recognises the growing incidence of home-working

Supreme Court to rule on green belt quarry plan

The Supreme Court is to hear an appeal in a long-running dispute over the visual impacts of a planned quarry extension in the green belt.

The hearing will focus on North Yorkshire County Council’s granting of planning permission to Darrington Quarries to extend the Jackdaw Crag Quarry, which is in green belt land near Tadcaster.

The High Court rejected a challenge by brewery Samuel Smith, a major local landowner, in March 2017. This was overturned by the Court of Appeal a year later in a case that hinged on preserving “openness” of the green belt.

The Court of Appeal ruled that a senior officer had misunderstood national planning policies on the preservation of the green belt. Lord Justice Lindblom said the officer had mistakenly concluded that the openness of the green belt would not be harmed because the proposal did not involve the construction of new buildings.

“When the development under consideration is within one of the five categories in paragraph 90 [of the National Planning Policy Framework] and is likely to have visual effects within the green belt, the policy implicitly requires the decision-maker to consider how those visual effects bear on the question of whether the development would preserve the openness of the green belt,” Lindblom ruled.

Judge hits out at ‘inadequate’ green space talks

The High Court has criticised a West London council over its consultation on a decision not to designate playing fields as green space.

Udney Park Playing Fields in Teddington were donated by press baron Lord Beaverbrook to St Mary's Hospital Medical School in 1937, but have been owned since 2015 by developer Quantum Teddington.

The company proposes to build 107 flats and a doctor’s surgery on the site, a move opposed by the London Borough of Richmond Upon Thames.

The judicial review follows a planning inspector’s statutory examination of the local plan last year, which rejected the fields’ designation as green space. Local campaigners Friends of Udney Park Playing Fields said that modifications proposed by the inspector and put out for consultation did not make clear the site’s ‘de-designation’ as a local green space. The group’s judicial review challenge was contested by Quantum but not by the council.

Mr Justice Waksman branded the consultation as “manifestly unfair” and “plainly inadequate” and said campaigners had little opportunity to comment. He ruled that the outcome could have been different if campaigners had been allowed a proper chance to take part.

South Gloucestershire loses High Court case

South Gloucestershire Council has failed in a High Court bid to overturn a planning inspector’s decision to allow an appeal against its refusal of a 350-home scheme.

The council applied under section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to quash the inspector’s decision in favour of Welbeck Strategic Land last year. It refused to grant outline planning permission against officers’ advice, saying the proposal was speculative in nature, would not result in a comprehensively planned development, and was contrary to its core strategy. A planning inspector later overturned this.

In court, the council said the inspector failed to provide adequate reasons for rejecting its submission that permission should be refused on the ground of prematurity in the light of the emerging joint spatial plan, to be followed by the emerging South Gloucestershire Local Plan.

But Mrs Justice Lang said she did not accept that the way in which the inspector formulated his reasons substantially prejudiced the council. “The inspector’s reasons were specific to this application. It is open to the council to seek to distinguish this case from other appeals and applications, concerning different proposals, at other sites.”

Nigel Hewitson is a consultant at Gowling WLG


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