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Residential and commercial property classes explained

Jul 19, 2022 | Uncategorised

Ever wanted to turn a pet shop into a pub? Or transform your home into the best sushi restaurant your town has ever seen?

We have some bad news. It might not be as easy as you think.

See, all properties in the UK fall under what’s known as “planning use classes”. These determine what a building can be used for by its lawful occupants.

Whether you’re developing or purchasing a commercial property, you’ll need to keep these use classes in mind. They’re designed to help local authorities control the balance and character of properties in a given area – and effectively allow them to veto a property if its use is deemed inappropriate.

That’s why it’s unlikely you’ll be able to build an ore-smelting facility next to a primary school. Or, indeed, why you might have difficulty turning “Mike’s Pet Supplies” into “The King’s Arms”.

What legislation covers property use classes?

Property use classes were implemented in a piece of legislation called the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987.

This laid out 15 use classes, ranging from A1 (shops) to D2 (assembly and leisure), along with “Sui Generis”, which applies to properties that don’t fall under any of the other classes.

Use classes were reformed in 2020. The new legislation scrapped several classes, replacing them with a new category: “Class E – Commercial, Business and Service”.

Can you change a building’s use class?

Yes, it’s perfectly possible to change a property’s use class. However, this usually requires planning permission.

Under certain circumstances, planning permission is not required. For example, some changes are covered by “permitted development” rights, which act as a kind of pre-granted planning permission.

Property classes explained

Class B: industrial properties

A class B commercial property covers anything used in the realm of industry. Naturally, industry is a broad field, so the class is broken up further into the following subcategories:

B2 class

The B2 class covers h a wide range of general-use industrial buildings, including manufacturing, engineering and production facilities, as well as machine construction or repair facilities.

B2 sites include heavier industries that are unable to be situated near urban or residential areas. This is because of problems like pungent smells, fumes, noise, pollution and the risk of soot and smog.

B3-B7 classes: special industrial groups

The reason these are grouped together is that they fall under “special industrial groups”.

This means that, while they’re still classed as industrial properties, they each serve a purpose that requires specific regulation.

  • B3: alkali processing and alkali waste
  • B4: smelting and forging of metals
  • B5: production of building materials
  • B6: rubber manufacturing through oil waste
  • B7: food processing plants
  • B8: storage and distribution units

Class C: residential properties

A class C property covers anything residential. However, as this is quite a broad definition, the class is broken up into three distinct subclassifications that better define their function.

C1: hotels

C1 covers any property that’s used for lodging purposes, but without the higher standard of care provided by the likes of hospitals and nursing homes.

  • Hotels
  • Guest houses
  • Boarding houses
  • Hostels

C2: optional accommodations

C2 properties are buildings that offer accommodation only as a secondary purpose to their primary functions.

  • Hospitals
  • Nursing homes
  • Boarding schools
  • University halls
  • Residential training centres

C3: general residencies

C3 covers any building that is used primarily as a home as opposed to a place of business.

  • Flats
  • Apartments
  • Houses

C4: considerable occupancy

Similar to the C3 class, C4 covers buildings that serve as someone’s home or dwelling. The difference is in how many occupants the property allows. C4 properties typically house between three and six unrelated individuals.

Class E: commercial, business and service

Class E is perhaps the broadest category of all. It was introduced when use classes were reformed in 2020, replacing classes A1, A2, A3 and B1.

It includes the following types of businesses:


  • Hairdressing salons and barbers
  • Post Offices (but not sorting offices)
  • Pet shops
  • Showrooms
  • Retail warehouses
  • Ticket and travel agencies
  • Domestic product hire shops
  • Internet cafés
  • Dry cleaners
  • Funeral parlours

Financial and professional services

  • Banks and building societies
  • Professional service organisations
  • Estate agencies
  • Employment agencies
  • Betting shops

Restaurants and cafés

Any business selling food or drink to be eaten on-site falls under the E category. This doesn’t include other food outlets like takeaways.

Health clinics, care centres and gyms

If a property is used as a medical clinic, crèche, daycare centre, gym or indoor sports facility, it falls under class E.

Offices and industrial buildings

This comprises:

  • Offices
  • Businesses researching and developing products or processes
  • Businesses carrying out industrial processes

Class F: community and educational properties

Similar to class E, class F covers an eclectic range of properties. Class F is divided into two subcategories.

F1: educational buildings

Schools and training centres are covered by the F1 class. Museums, libraries, exhibition halls, law courts and places of worship also fall under this category.

Universities aren’t classed as F1 properties because they usually have accommodation available.

F2: community services

The F2 class covers buildings intended for community use. This includes things like village halls, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, ice rinks and outdoor sports centres.

Shops can also be covered under the F2 classification so long as they’re under 280 square metres in size, they’re at least one kilometre from a similar shop and they sell mostly essential goods.

Sui Generis

This category covers properties that don’t fall neatly into any of the other categories, or that have more than one use. Sui generis is Latin for “of its own kind”.

Businesses in this category include:

  • Cinemas
  • Theatres
  • Music venues
  • Pubs
  • Takeaway food outlets
  • Nightclubs
  • Dance halls
  • Bingo halls
  • Casinos
  • Amusement arcades
  • Taxi firms
  • Shops selling or displaying motor vehicles
  • Petrol stations
  • Scrapyards and waste disposal facilities

At Milners, we pride ourselves on providing friendly, easy-to-understand legal advice. Why not get in touch for a free consultation with one of our expert commercial property lawyers?



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