HTF comments - Consultation on new opportunities for sustainable development and growth through the reuse of existing buildings

Response form:  Communities and Local Government

New opportunities for sustainable development and growth through the reuse of existing buildings: Consultation

We are seeking your views to the following questions on the proposals to support sustainable development and growth through encouraging the reuse of empty and redundant existing buildings where the original use was no longer required or appropriate.

How to respond:

The closing date for responses is 11 September 2012.

This response form is saved separately on the DCLG website.

Responses should be sent preferably by email:

Email responses to:

Written responses to:

Saima Williams
Consultation Team (Wider change of use)
Planning Development Management Division
Department for Communities and Local Government
1/J3, Eland House
Bressenden Place
London SW1E 5DU

About you
i)    Your details:


Noël James



Name of organisation
(if applicable):

Historic Towns Forum


PO Box 22, Bristol, BS16 1RZ


Telephone number:

0117 975 0459

ii)   Are the views expressed on this consultation an official response from the organisation you represent or your own personal views?
Organisational response                                                                                                   X         
Personal views                                                                                                                           

iii)  Please tick the box which best describes you or your organisation:
District Council                                                                                                                            
Metropolitan district council                                                                                                      
London borough council                                                                                                           
Unitary authority/county council/county borough council                                            
Parish council                                                                                                                       
Community council                                                                                                                    
Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB)                                                                                
Professional trade association                                                                                                 
Land owner                                                                                                                        
Private developer/house builder                                                                                    
Developer association                                                                                                     
Voluntary sector/charity                                                                                                     X

(please comment):



iv)  What is your main area of expertise or interest in this work
(please tick one box)?
Chief Executive                                                                                                                          
Member of professional or trade association                                                                         
Planning policy/implementation                                                                                              
Environmental protection                                                                                                   X

(please comment):

The HTF works across sectors to promote conservation and prosperity in historic towns and cities.

Would you be happy for us to contact you again in relation to this questionnaire?
Yes X  No 

The Historic Towns Forum (HTF) welcomes this consultation and the opportunity to contribute its views.

Considering the Policy Background, the HTF:
  1. agrees that there are benefits in greater flexibility (para. 7) and that changes in business and society make the review appropriate (para. 9); but
  2. in addressing changes of use it is not only the impact on the neighbourhood that is important (para. 8), there may be good planning reasons for wishing to retain the premises in the original use or at least manage the change, see Q 8 below.

In the Legal Background there is a presumption that defined uses should be grouped within in the same class (para. 11) and the review does not question this.  This may be open to challenge as the nature of some activities change, see Q11 and Q12.  To this extent there is a case for saying that the review has missed that chance for a more fundamental look at the Use Classes Order – the narrowness of the review with its focus on rural issues reflects this.

Turning to the Policy Context, the HTF supports the conclusions set out in paragraphs 19-22.

In relation to the Proposals for Change, the HTF:

  1. supports the proposal to double the allowance to the creation of two residential units above shops (para. 23);
  2. notes the intention to support the development of new schools through the planning system (para. 24); and
  3. supports broadly the effectiveness of the four main categories plus sui generis (para. 25), but see Q 11/12 below.

ii) Questions
Please refer to the relevant parts of the consultation document for narrative relating to each question.
Question 1: Do you think there should be permitted development rights for buildings used for agricultural purposes to change use to:

  1. Class A1 (shops), A2 (financial and professional services), and A3 (restaurants and cafes),
  2. Class B1 (Business) and B8 (storage and distribution),
  3. Class C1 (Hotels)
  4. Class D2 (Assembly and Leisure)

Yes X  No 


This is supported in principle subject to:
1.  firm regulations embodying the proposed limitation to apply only to existing buildings at the date of this consultation and after ten years for new buildings;
2.  clear limitations on the permitted extent of Class A1 uses; and
3.  adequate safeguards to protect historic environment assets from changes that would damage their significance – listed building and Conservation Area consents would still apply, but locally listed building might slip through the net and should be protected.

Question 2: Should thresholds and limitations be applied to reduce the potential impact of any permitted change of use?
Yes X  No 


Changes to A1 use poses two main challenges:
1.  many agricultural buildings are large and this relaxation of the UCO must not facilitate significant out of town retail development in conflict with the NPPF; and
2.  in rural areas existing retail provision needs to be taken into account.
(i)  Does the proposal provide shops for the community where they don’t currently exist?
(ii)  Would the proposal threaten the viability of existing local/village shops?

Both 1 and 2(ii) might be addressed by the application of thresholds (e.g. size constraints) and limitations (e.g. range of goods sold).  This needs to be the subject of further empirical research and analysis before national standards are adopted; or should be signposted as discretionary matters for the local planning authority to include in its Local Plan.

On a matter of detail, where changes are allowed controls over signs and advertising must be maintained.  Uncontrolled proliferation would be particularly damaging in rural environments.

Question 3: Are there circumstances that would justify a prior approval process to allow the local planning authority to consider potential impacts?
Yes X  No 


This should be something that the local planning authority can specify through its Local Plan.  This would allow it to be tailored to local circumstances.  Cases where prior approval should be required are:
1.  all retail uses, see Q1;
2.  buildings subject to heritage/conservation designations, e.g. AONB, National Park, Conservation Areas, listed buildings, locally listed buildings, indeed these designations should probably be excluded, see Q1 above and Impact Assessment  below; and
3.  there is a conflict with the Local Plan.

Question 4: Do you agree that the size thresholds for change of use should be increased?
Yes    No 


The HTF would like to see some empirical evidence on this, e.g.
1.  What size of unit is usually involved in a cou application?
2.  What size units are businesses looking for?

There is a question as to whether or not this should be set nationally as demands and needs may vary from area to area.  Should thresholds be set locally through Local Plans?

Question 5: If so, is 470m2 the correct threshold, or should the increase in the limit be larger or more modest?
Yes    No 


See Q4.

However, 470 sq m = 21.7m x 21.7m over one floor and say 10 fte employees for business park type uses, which probably sounds about right?

Question 6: Do you think there should be permitted development rights to allow for the temporary use of buildings currently within the A, B1 and D1 and D2 use classes for a range of other specified uses for two years?
Yes    No X


Encouraging the uptake of vacant premises is right in principle, but the HTF has concerns about the suggested relaxation.
1.  Given their potential for adverse impacts on the surrounding community, especially in residential neighbourhoods, the relaxation should not extend to A4 (pubs and bars) and A5 (take-aways).
2.  For the same reasons, D1 (non residential institutions) and D2 (assembly and leisure) should be excluded.
3.  Two years is too long:  in the event that any particular use gives rise to problems two years would be an intolerable imposition on the community; a maximum of one year would be more appropriate.

Prior notification would help to provide a check on undesirable uses within permitted categories, but A4. A5, D1 and D2 should be excluded from the start.

It is unclear from the consultation what powers the local planning authority would have to bring under control a problem use that was taking advantage of flexibility allowed under this relaxation of the GDO.  This need to be made explicit.

Question 7: If you agree with the proposal what uses do you think should be allowed on a temporary basis?

A1 – A3, B1, C3

Question 8: Do you think there should be permitted development rights to allow hotels to change to residential use without the need for a planning permission?
Yes    No X


This is certainly a valid question.  Looked at from the narrow perspective of land use impacts, while the change from a dwelling to a class C1 use is properly a matter for control, the reverse change is generally far less contentious, if only because potential impacts on amenity are normally likely to be acceptable. 
However, there are other considerations around policies towards tourism.
1.         The Government supports measures to develop and promote a successful tourism industry as a contribution to national prosperity (Government Tourism Policy, DCMS, March 2011).
2.         The policy specifically supports destination management as a way of developing and improving the tourism offer.
3.         Recent work by VisitBritain has highlighted the importance to destination management of planning the services and infrastructure on which the industry depends (Principles for Developing Destination Management Plans, July 2011).  There is a strong case for arguing that a diverse stock of accommodation, including small local hotels and guest houses, is important in meeting visitor expectations and ensuring broader economic and environmental sustainability.
4.         It is therefore important to plan for the visitor accommodation on which the industry depends.  To take two extreme cases, this will be equally true where: the retention of viable accommodation across a range of types supports a successful local tourism industry; or managed reduction of the accommodation stock is necessary to remove non viable surplus stock and improve the overall quality in the best locations.
5.         Effective management of the stock of accommodation will be achieved best by locally specific Local Plan policies, not by the blunt instrument of removing the need for planning consent to change the use.

There is established good practice on this locally driven approach, e.g. Hastings (see  and Eastbourne (

The HTF concludes that the proposed change is not desirable.

A question: Would this apply to pubs offering accommodation and thereby add to the pressures for change of use and hence loss that pubs are already facing?

Question 9: Should thresholds and limitations be applied to reduce the potential impact of any permitted change of use?
Yes X  No 


What are the impacts that thresholds and limitations would seek to reduce?  Impacts on amenity or impacts on the tourism industry or both?  Again consider two extremes.
1.  The change of use of small hotels/guest houses/B&Bs, say less than 10 rooms:  the amenity impacts could be limited, but the impact on the diversity of accommodation on offer could be significant.
2.  The change of use of a large central hotel, say 50+ rooms: there could be a significant impact in terms of the demand for services and residents’ car parking; and at this scale the change could seriously undermine the accommodation stock where the overall supply is limited.

Similar impacts, and others too, could be identified within and beyond this range.  It is difficult to see how thresholds and limitations could be applied nationally, as the issues will arise area by area and case by case in any given locality.  As we have argued in Q8, planning change should be managed through the Local Plan, not through a national relaxation of the GDO.

Question 10: Are there circumstances that would justify a prior approval process to allow the local authority to consider potential impacts?
Yes X  No 


In the event that the Government proceeds with this proposal, prior approval should be sought wherever there is a Local Plan policy seeking to manage the quality and quantity of the accommodation stock.

Question 11: Are you aware of any updates or amendments needed to the descriptions currently included for the existing Use Classes?
Yes X  No 


A1 Retail Changes
The change of use between the sale of different types of goods within class A1 is well established and usually works well.  However, it poses problems where large non food premises in local and district centers change to the sale of food (as supermarkets) to the disadvantage of local traders and the distinctiveness of the area.  This might be addressed by having a limit beyond which such a change would require specific planning consent.

Blurring of A1 & A3
The blurring of distinctions between some A1 and A3 uses can pose problems.  Establishments such as Café Nero, Prêt a Manger etc. increasingly have a mixture of retail, takeaway and café trade and it’s frequently unclear into which category they fit.  This raises concerns that a property may be given consent as a café but over time owners may seek to prove that there is an established take away use, which might be difficult to resist.  Is this in practice a problem and if so how might it be addressed?

Question 12: If yes, what is the amendment, and what is the justification?

Any changes related to Q11 need to be based on empirical studies to establish the nature of the issue, identify clear options and ultimately set out robust criteria.

Question: Impact Assessment
Do you have any comments on the assumptions and analysis set out in the consultation stage Impact Assessment? (See Annex 1)

See also the further specific questions within that Impact Assessment
Yes X  No 


1.  There does not seem to be compelling evidence that the relaxation will increase the level of desirable change taking place.  There is a serious risk that it will encourage undesirable changes, e.g. the introduction of new uses that morph over time into something that is contrary to sound planning.

2.  The balance of advantage in relation to costs for local authorities is unclear.  The impact assessment appears to underestimate the costs of:
(i) dealing with prior notification cases; and
(ii) monitoring and enforcement, which will be essential to ensure that the potential problems identified in 1 above do not get out of hand.
Moreover, the loss of hotels and guest house to residential will involve a loss of business premises with the potential reduction in business rate income to the public purse.

3.  In terms of broader economic impacts, there is a concern that the relaxation of change of use from hotels to residential will encourage businesses to cease (or be forced to cease in the case on leased/rented premises) for short term capital gains.  This is not in the best interest of the local and national economy in the medium to longer term.

4.  The HTF welcomes the intention to exclude listed buildings and scheduled monuments from the PD relaxation (para. 51), but believes this should go further and extend to AONBs, National Parks, Conservation Areas and  locally listed buildings, see Q1 & Q3.

 Thank you for your comments.