Planning matters: Planning by numbers - and lettters

November 01 2019
Planning matters: Planning by numbers - and lettters

With Chris Gosling

PLEASE join me for a quick journey along Fishponds Road. Let‘s start at the Star Inn and head up to the park. As we go I will describe the landmarks on the way in planning shorthand: The Star itself is A4. Next door used to be B8 but is well on the way to being A5. Then there is C3 for a while. The rank afterwards is mostly A1, with the occasional A3, A2 and further A5. There is quite a bit of C3 at first floor. We carry on past two long-standing D1 sites, another A4 unit, past an A2, then another rank where A1 intensifies, with some exceptions. Now we have reached the park, maybe a bit of explanation wouldn’t go amiss. In translation, we started at the public house, past the tile warehouse which will very soon be the McDonalds drive-through, past a row of houses and then the shops opposite Lodge Causeway with some flats above. Then at least one cafe, financial services office and hot food takeaway. Both the old library and the primary school fall within D1, followed by the Portcullis pub, Lloyds bank and then the main shopping centre. You can take this brief tour as an

introduction to the Use Classes Order. Every use falls within a set class designated by a letter and number, while the exceptions are known as sui generis, which your average Roman would know means within a class of its own. Examples of sui generis include betting shops, car showrooms, nightclubs and all manner of colourful and uncommon uses including the likes of casinos. You can imagine that not everything fits neatly into each class. A2 is generally for premises which provide financial and professional services and are therefore as different from an A1 retail unit as an estate agents is from a newsagents. This in a nutshell is why A1 is encouraged in town centres - shops keep the economy ticking over. A2 units are often offices, but offices can also fall within Class B1. The definition and the difference between them can be critical as B1 offices can be turned into flats without planning permission, but the same is not true of A2. The Use Classes Order offers examples, but there are not watertight. Ultimately, the test of a use can be, in planning shorthand again, a matter of fact and degree.

Now that you are getting the hang of what it means when estate agents (A2, remember?) advertise a premises as A1 with permission for A3 (restaurant or cafe) or A5 (hot food takeaway). The last full revamp of the Use Classes Order was in 1989. Many planners think that it is due for a comprehensive update. The world has changed a lot in the last 30 years. Back then nobody talked about the digital economy, working from home or internet cafes (remember them?) not to mention Amazon collection stations (other rivers are available). It is surely time for the Use Classes Order to catch up and better reflect the modern world. In the meantime, planners have to find best fits, while the category of sui generis fills up steadily. And why does this obsession with pigeon-holing matter? Two reasons, mainly. Firstly being sure of what use class a site falls within also lets you know what you can do it, for instance adding extensions, without necessarily having to apply for planning permission. There are distinctions, for instance C3 houses differ from C3 flats, with the latter having no permitted development

rights. Secondly, as mentioned above, you can assess what the options for a change of use would be that would not require planning permission. For instance, at the corner of Lodge Causeway, the B1 former DSS office was converted to flats without requiring planning permission. The same rules would not apply to an A2 travel agent’s office. Establishing Use Classes was one of the early achievements of planning, with comprehensive effect. It has set the context for so much of the planning system and does not just apply to buildings but land generally. The pigeon-holing tendency is similarly fundamental and follows naturally. Fishponds can of course be enjoyed without any reference to letters or numbers!