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Change of lawful use of a property

Under the planning system, all land and buildings have a designated lawful use, such as a lawful use as a home or a lawful use as a business. 

Most uses of land and buildings are grouped into various categories known as 'Use Classes', but where there isn't an appropriate Use Class the land or building is defined as ‘sui generis’, which means “in a class of its own”.

A building's use will only be lawful if planning permission has been granted for that particular use, or if (in most cases) it can be proved that that use has been continuously taking place for 10 years or more.


Do I need planning permission for a Change of Use?

It is sometimes possible to change the use of land or buildings from one use to another without planning permission. Changes of use within the same Use Class (i.e. from a greengrocer’s shop to a shoe shop) do not require planning permission, nor do changes where the Use Classes Order allows a change from one class to another specified class (i.e. a restaurant could be changed to a shop or a estate agency). These are known as ‘Permitted Changes’. 

Central government has introduced a significant number of new Permitted Changes in the last couple of years, some temporary and some permanent, so the regulations in this area are quite complex. Further details and current information can be found on Planning Portal’s Change of Use page.

If the change is from or to a “sui generis” use, or is not a Permitted Change, it will require planning permission.

Similarly most external building work associated with a change of use is likely to require planning permission.

You will also require planning permission for any change of use from public open space land or amenity area (even if privately owned) to residential use (such as extending residential gardens or incorporation into the residential curtilage) and for erecting any fencing that facilitates such change of use.


How can I find out the lawful use of a property?

We are frequently asked if we can advise what the lawful use of specific land or buildings is, but the council does not hold a register or database of lawful uses. As noted above, Permitted Changes of Use may have taken place without having to gain permission from the council first, and therefore we are unable to provide advice on the current lawful use.

Documentation relating to any historic grant of planning permission for a particular site is searchable via Planning Explorer. However, if legal proof of use is required you will need to apply for a Lawful Development Certificate for Existing Use, which if granted will confirm that the land or property effectively has planning permission for that use.

Your application will need to be accompanied by sufficient documentary evidence and information to demonstrate what you believe the current use to be and for how long that use has existed. You may be able to obtain this information from the current or previous owner / vendor or their agents.

Without receipt of sufficient or precise enough information the council may not be able to grant a Lawful Development Certificate, in which case the only way to establish the lawful use will be by applying for planning permission for that use.

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Unauthorised change of use

If you believe that an unauthorised change of use has taken place please report it to us and we can investigate.

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