Following the High Court's ruling of a legal challenge against the changes to the Use Class Order and General Permitted Development Order, Jonathan Phillips, Planning Partner, gives his view on the impact of the regulation changes on one of the hardest hit industries during the pandemic and how these are already demonstrating a change in the high street landscape.
The regulations have been in place for 10 weeks now and there has been some positive response from the hospitality and leisure industry. Whilst many national and multi-site operators continue to lick their pandemic wounds and are in the midst of reorganisation, refinancing, offloading under-performing units, CVAs, etc, there has been a notable increase in independents and entrepreneurs taking advantage of the permitted changes of use in the high street. New coffee shops are popping up everywhere and appear to be the busiest sector for occupation of vacant units, taking advantage of both Class E allowances and consequent competition in rent levels. It is a buyer’s market in this respect, at least for the short term.
There has also been a growing wave of planning applications from AGC operators who would previously have struggled to secure permission in high street locations, but who are now taking advantage of the flexible approach introduced by Class E. Whilst a Sui Generis use, AGCs are by definition an appropriate main town centre use and would therefore otherwise meet the definition of a Class E operation. Two recent appeals by AGC operators have succeeded due to the implications of the introduction of Class E and its clear conflict with protective retail frontage policy, which is now considered to be a material consideration in planning decisions.
Combined with the extension of permitted take-away use at pubs and restaurants until 31 March 2022, with murmurings of a potential permanent change in this respect, there appears to be light at the end of the recovery tunnel, albeit clearly only when we are out of national lockdown which has hit the hospitality and leisure trade the hardest.