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Can I change the use of my business premises?

10th February 2021 by Mark Preece

Categories: Covid-19
Tags: , , ,

If the pandemic has left you with empty commercial property, now could be a good time to look for alternative uses.  To help businesses make the best use of commercial real estate, the Government has made the planning rules more flexible so that it is now possible to change between a range of commercial uses without the need for planning permission.

‘To make a property investment work for you in the long term, it really helps if you have the flexibility to change the use,’ says Mark Preece, head of the commercial property team with Laceys Solicitors. ‘However, planning use is only part of the picture because provisions in your lease or mortgage agreement may impose tighter controls which will take priority.’

Changes to planning law

For planning purposes, commercial property uses are grouped into classes.  Changing use from one class to another requires planning permission, but changing between uses in the same class does not.

From September 2020, a range of common business uses have been swept into a new broad Class E.  This includes offices, shops, restaurants and cafes as well as places for health centres, indoor sports facilities and childcare.  This could create new opportunities for a more diverse destination combining a range of uses which might not have sat so easily together in the past.

There are still some important commercial uses left out of Class E.  It does not cover pubs, wine bars and hot food takeaways, or leisure uses like cinemas, theatres and music venues.  This means that you will still need to apply for planning permission if you want to change from, or to, one of these uses.

This may also be true if you want to convert commercial property for residential use.  The rules are different for different types of property. This may change, as the Government is considering whether to allow a change to residential use from Class E uses without additional planning permission.

If you are considering a commercial to residential conversion, be aware that this is generally not possible if you hold the commercial property in a self-invested personal pension (SIPP).  This is because SIPPs are designed to give tax advantages for certain types of investment and residential property is treated as taxable, so if you change from commercial to residential use you will incur a tax penalty.

Contractual limits in leases and mortgages

The new flexibility in the planning rules may still be limited by what your lease and mortgage allow.  Landlords usually want to keep fairly tight control over how commercial property is used because it might affect the value of their investment.  A typical commercial lease will specify a permitted use.  If changes of use are allowed, they are usually limited to similar uses, for example switching a book shop to a clothes shop but not to an office or restaurant.

Depending on the wording of the clause, the landlord may have to be reasonable in responding to any request to change the use, but this is not always the case.  Some leases define the permitted use by reference to one of the use classes set out in planning law.  Now these have changed, there could be an argument over how to interpret the lease.

You should also be careful if you have mortgaged your property.  Like landlords, lenders often impose restrictions on how the property may be used and if you change use without the lender’s consent, you could find yourself in breach of the terms of your loan.

How we can help

If you are taking a new lease, your solicitor can advise you on your options and help if you want to negotiate a change of use.

If you want to change the use of an existing property, it is worth knowing right from the start how much scope you have, so that you can avoid disputes and wasted negotiation time.

If you would like further advice please contact Mark Preece in confidence on 01202 557256 or email m.preece@laceyssolicitors.co.uk

Mark Preece

Partner — Commercial and Residential Property

Direct dial: 01202 205013

Email

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  • “Mark has acted for our varied property portfolio in Dorset for over 5 years, and has a real understanding of our business and how we operate. He shares our passion for high standards and attention to detail, providing us with invaluable advice and support on all aspects of our developments from initial site acquisition through to completed property sales. Mark and his team continuously add value by being proactive and delivering a fast and expert service."”

    Eddie Fitzsimmons- Managing Director, Lomand Homes Limited

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Mark qualified as a solicitor in 2008 after gaining an LLB (2003) and LLM (2005) at university’s in Birmingham.  He completed his training contract with the North Dorset and South Wiltshire firm now known as Farnfields LLP and joined Horsey Lightly Fynn (HLF) in Bournemouth in 2011.  He became a partner at HLF in 2014 and at merger of HLF and Laceys became a partner in the merged firm in 2015.

Mark is a partner working across our Commercial and Residential property teams acting for a wide variety of clients from property developers, property investors, businesses, first time buyers and those needing advice relating to enfranchisement and residential landlord and tenant dealing with all aspects of property work.

Away from work Mark spends his time with his wife and their three young boys who keep them very busy.

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