New Permitted Development Rights for Shops and Commercial (Class MA)

What are Permitted Development Rights?

Permitted development rights are a list of improvements and alterations you can make to a property, without typically having to apply for planning permission. These include things like adding single-storey extensions, roof alterations and porches and fences.

Though permitted development rights apply in many areas, some local planning authorities have an ‘Article 4’ Direction in place. This means that planning permission is indeed required, even for developments that would normally be covered by permitted development rights.

Article 4 Directions tend to be in place in particularly characterful areas or those of cultural/historical importance, where these types of developments could threaten the unique charm of the area.

For more information on what Permitted Development Rights are take a look at our FREE eBook, Town Planning, the Basics….Permitted Development & Use Class.

What is the Use Class Order?

The Use Class Order, as set out in the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 (as amended) organises the use of land and buildings into ‘classes’. Vitally, a property can be converted to another type of property falling within the same class, without having to apply for planning permission, unless there is a specific restriction on the land/property or the use fall within a Sui Generis Use Class (meaning they are individual uses within their own class).

What Changes Have Been Made?

As of mid-2020, new Use Class E was introduced, encompassing establishments like shops, restaurants, and indoor sport (amongst others) that were all previously in separate classes. This means that the Highstreets should be better able to adapt to public demand, with less red tape to navigate in the process.

What Changes are Planned?

From August 2021, Class MA will come into force, which will allow a change of use from Class E to residential, subject to prior approval. This new class will replace the current Class O (office to residential) and Class M (retail to residential).

The revised use class order includes transitional provision which retains the effect of the permitted development rights based on the classes that were in place prior to these regulations coming into force. A building or use will continue to be subject to any permitted development rights that it was entitled to on or before 31 August 2020.  These transitional provisions will remain in place until 31 July 2021 when new, revised permitted development rights will be introduced.

What Conditions need to be met?

Of course, there are always certain constraints on permitted development rights, and Class MA will be no different. Key points to keep in mind include:

  • Floor space must be no more than 1500 square metres.
  • Conversions must be to residential only. For example, conversion to a house of multiple occupancy (HMO) would not be appropriate.
  • The building must have been vacant for a minimum of 3 months beforehand.

It worth noting that the Government has made any existing Article 4 directions that restrict office to residential permitted development rights (Class O) applicable to Class MA permitted development.  Existing Article 4 directions in restricting Class O rights will be automatically extended to 1 August 2022 unless cancelled.

And permitted development addresses only the change of use. Any operation development required to facilitate that change of use (for example access / means of escape etc) will all still require planning permission.

What will Local Planning Authorities Consider during the Prior Approval Process?

When deciding whether to grant a Class MA change of use through prior approval, local planning authorities will assess things like:

  • Transport impacts of the development
  • Contamination and flooding risks
  • Impacts of noise from surrounding commercial premises on future occupants
  • Whether adequate natural light will be present in all habitable rooms.

More generally, you cannot use Class MA in sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs), safety hazard zones, military explosive areas, listed buildings or scheduled monuments, or Article 2(3)* land (excluding conservation areas). If you wish to make use of Class MA in a conservation area, this can be done, however if you plan to convert the ground floor, the impact of that change of use on the character or sustainability of the conservation area will be a key consideration.

What do I need to submit for a Class MA prior approval application?

There are a number of documents you need to submit with a class MA application for prior approval, namely:

  • A statement detailing net increase in residential units proposed;
  • A floor plan indicating the total floor space in square metres of each dwellinghouse, the dimensions and proposed use of each room, the position and dimensions of windows, doors and walls, and the elevations of the dwellinghouses;
  • Contact details for the developer/applicant, it’s likely that a  form will be created to cover;
  • Where the Environment Agency are to be consulted (i.e. when the site is within Flood Zone 2 or 3 or is located within Flood Zone 1 and there are known drainage problems), a site specific flood risk assessment is required;
  • When assessing the risks (transport, flooding, noise, contamination, or light highlighted above) the Council may request additional information;
  • The application fee payable to the Council which has been set at £100 per dwelling created.

How Long Will I have to Complete the Development?

Once prior approval has been granted, you will have 3 years to complete the development, starting on the date approval was given.

To recap…

You can only apply for Class MA to change Class E to residential from 1 August 2021.

You must apply to the Council for PRIOR approval before the change of use can occur.

Prior approval is a 56 day process following the date on which the application is received, if the Council do not grant/refuse the application within the 56days the change can occur.

Once changed via class MA you can not then change to C4 HMO or any other use without planning permission.  The dwellings created must remain as C3 and shall not be used for any other purpose unless ancillary to the C3 use – even with the permitted development rights available to change a C3 use to a C4 HMO!

But remember…

If you’re proposing to change a property into something which isn’t within the same Use Class or doesn’t benefit from a permitted change of use it doesn’t mean you can’t, it just means you need to apply for planning permission and go through the usual channels.

Related Content

If you want to know how shopping habits have changed from pre-pandemic times take a look at our blog about this: Changing Shopping Habits in a Post-COVID World: Where Does Planning fit in?

And if you’re wondering why the Government has shaken up the Use Class Order read our blog New Use Class E – A ray of Hope for Britain’s Highstreets?

If you’re unsure how this could effect your property CONTACT US for a no obligation chat.


*Article 2(3) is land within—

(a)an area designated as a conservation area under section 69 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (designation of conservation areas);

(b)an area of outstanding natural beauty;

(c)an area specified by the Secretary of State for the purposes of section 41(3) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (enhancement and protection of the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside)(1);

(d)the Broads;

(e)a National Park; and

(f)a World Heritage Site.