Continuing the series in which our Clinic experts provide a guide to those thorny issues that can leave the unwary out of pocket. This week, John Winter on securing change of use: I want to develop a disused Victorian workshop into residential property but have been told I need to apply for “change of use”. How does this work, exactly? The Town And Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 sets out the various use classes for buildings. However, the possible uses are so many, and the variations so endless, that it cannot be totally comprehensive. To add to the confusion, while a “material change of use” requires planning consent, what constitutes a “material change of use” is not defined by statute. Hence, much is decided on the basis of case law. The results can be odd: no permission is needed to convert two dwellings into one as it is not a material change of use; whereas converting one dwelling into two is a material change of use and hence requires permission. How odd — are there any other loopholes? Section 55(2) of the 1980 Town and Country Planning Act excludes certain uses from “development”; hence permission is not required. The most significant of these exclusions is that any building within the curtilage of a dwelling house, the use of which is ancillary to the house, does not require consent for change of use, although other consents may be required. This covers swimming pools, garages, studios and playrooms, but not granny houses.
Another use excluded from development by this Act is agriculture. You can farm where you like. But because people have pushed this to the limit, court decisions have decided that certain uses, such as keeping horses, or opening a farm shop, are not “‘agriculture”. Do you think I stand a good chance with my workshop? Southern England is short of houses, so conversion of nondomestic structures into homes is often welcomed. But there are exceptions. Employment may militate against conversion of industrial premises. .
Change of use is very much an individual issue for each building. There are few hard and fast rules. It is all part of the planning process and applications for change of use follow the same procedure as other planning applications.
John Winter runs his own architectural practice..