Commercial use classes in England

Commercial use classes in England

Commercial use classes in England


The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 came into force on June 1, 1987, replacing the previous 1972 and 1983 versions. It defines the possible uses of a site, with “site” meaning “the whole area of land within a single unit of occupation”. The legislation is particularly relevant for those looking to buy, lease, rent or otherwise occupy commercial property. The vast majority of property in England will have had its permissible uses already assigned by its local authority.

Use classes

The ‘Classes’ of potential uses are divided into groups for example; the uses falling under Part A are types of professional service provided to the public and business communities, including the sale of goods or service in shops. Each Part is further divided into sub-groups, which each then contains the specific uses the law is actually concerned with. Each of the subgroups is assigned a letter (from A to D) and a number, creating for example a ‘Class A1 Use’, a ‘Class B3 Use’, etc.

Each Class is used by the Local Planning Authority to allow them to create a suitable balance between residential areas and those for business purposes. They have the authority to effectively prohibit a ‘use’ which would be inadvisable due to a particular property’s location or other relevant considerations. The aim is to prevent types of business activities taking place which would have a detrimental effect on the local community. A hypothetical example might be to veto the location of a proposed heavy metal works or all night club beside a school or housing estate. The following information represents a brief summary of the property ‘Classes’ of Use.

Not every use of building is assigned a Class under this legislation. Examples of these include theatres, scrap yards, petrol stations, nightclubs, and casinos, and these are known as sui generis uses.

Class A – ‘Shops (Including some services)

This heading is further sub-divided into a variety of everyday commercial uses.

Class A1 – Shops and retail outlets

For those within Class A1, the customers in all cases should be “visiting members of the general public”. Property in this area could include:

Shops (where goods are sold)

Post offices

Premises where tickets are sold and travel agents

Premises selling cold food (intended for consumption off site)



Funeral directors

Premises where goods for sale are displayed (a showroom)

Premises where “domestic or personal” goods or services are hired from

Premises where articles are deposited for washing, cleaning or repair

Class A2 – Professional services

Class A2 moves on to cover “financial and professional services”. Again, these must be offered to the general public. This time, the specification is that “principally” the clients or customers of these types of businesses will again be visiting the premises:

Financial services

Professional services – except those involving health or medical services

Any other services deemed “appropriate” for location within a shopping area

Class A3 – Food and drink

Class A3 consists of one use, namely premises which are to sell “Food and drink”, either to be consumed on site, or on or offsite in the case of hot food.

Class A4 – Drinking establishments

Drinking establishments such as public houses, wine bars or other such establishments.

Class A5 – Hot food and takeaway

For the sale of hot food consumption intended for consumption off the premises.


Class B – Further business and industrial activities

This class covers many common business activities, and is prefaced by the provision for “all or any of” the activities described in Class B1:

Class B1 – Business

Offices – except those already mentioned within Class A2

Premises for Research and Development

Industrial processes which “can” take place within a residential area without damaging the “amenity of that area”

Since these classes are described in quite general terms, professional advice is advisable before proceeding with negotiations to occupy commercial premises. As the remaining Classes in Part B continue, the uses begin to relate to increasingly specific industrial processes.

Class B2

General Industrial Use for the use of carrying on an industrial process other than one falling within class B1 or within classes B3 to B7 below.

Class B3 – Special industrial group A

Relating to activities which must be registered according to the Alkali, Etc. Works Regulation Act 1906. The exceptions are those activities which fall into the subsequent Classes B4 to B7, assigned to “Special Industrial Group B”.

Class B4 – Special industrial group B

Class B4 relates to certain types of metal works, although not those carried out in a quarry or mine (or adjacent to one).

Class B5 – Special industrial group C

This addresses types of heavier industrial processes for minerals, again except where quarry or mine based. Some examples here are “producing rubber from scrap”, “boiling or running linoleum gum” and “manufacturing acetylene from calcium carbide”.

Class B6 – Special industrial group D

Activities can be broadly summarised as those involving work with oils, gums, resins and some other types of chemical compounds, dealt with in Class B6. The first entry in this Class makes it clear that petroleum and petroleum products are not included.

Class B7 – Special industrial group E

Covers processes for materials of animal origin and includes 14 different uses. These range from processing potential food stuffs such as the boiling or cleaning of tripe or curing fish to more general processes which nonetheless involve animal products. An example here is producing manure or activities processing “skins” (such as leather).

Class B8 – Special industrial group F

Applies to properties which are used “for storage or as a distribution centre


Class C – Hotels, Hostels and Dwelling Houses

Class C1

Class C1 deals with hotels, boarding houses, guest houses. This does not include premises which offer care as part of their services. That is to say, these premises are ‘regular hotels’ open to the general public, rather than those for guests or residents with special needs.

Class C2

Class C2 does cover such types of premises, providing they are residential:

Hospitals and nursing homes.

Schools, colleges or training centres

Class C3

Class C3 addresses use as a “dwelling house”, as a principal or secondary residence. The classifications were updated in 2010.

This class is formed of 3 parts:

C3(a) those living together as a single household as defined by the Housing Act 2004, what could be construed as a family.

C3(b): up to six people living together as a single household and receiving care e.g. supported housing schemes such as those for people with learning disabilities or mental health problems.

C3(c) allows for groups of people (up to six) living together as a single household. This allows for those groupings that do not fall within the C4 HMO definition, but which fell within the previous C3 use class, to be provided for i.e. a small religious community may fall into this section as could a homeowner who is living with a lodger.

Class C4

Houses in multiple occupation – small shared houses occupied by between three and six unrelated individuals, as their only or main residence, who share basic amenities such as a kitchen or bathroom.

Large houses in multiple occupation with more than 6 people sharing are unclassified by the Use Classes Order. In planning terms they are described as being sui generis. In consequence, a planning application will be required for a change of use from a dwelllinghouse to a large house in multiple occupation or from a Class C4 house in multiple occupation to a large house in multiple occupation where a material change of use is considered to have taken place.


Class D – Non-Residential Institutions

Class D1

Class D1 covers many ‘public’ services (which do not fall under Class A):

Medical or health services premises which don’t form a part of the practitioner’s home

Crèches, day nurseries or day centres

Premises for education,

Premises which display works of art without commercial transactions (sale or hire)


Public libraries or reading rooms

Public or exhibition halls

Premises “for, or in connection with, public worship or religious instruction”

Class D2

Class D2 addresses the use of premises for entertainment and leisure purposes:


Concert halls

Bingo halls or casinos,

Dance halls

Swimming baths, skating rinks, gymnasiums or “area for other indoor or outdoor sports or recreations, not involving motorised vehicles or firearms.

Sui generis

Sui Generis – Certain uses do not fall within any use class and are considered ‘sui generis’. Such uses include: theatres, houses in multiple occupation, hostels providing no significant element of care, scrap yards. Petrol filling stations and shops selling and/or displaying motor vehicles. Retail warehouse clubs, nightclubs, launderettes, taxi businesses, amusement centres and casinos.

**Always double check with the council for the property you are interested in**