NewsOpinion

Class MA – Thoughts on the Starting Line!

On the 1st August 2021 the starting gun is fired and Class MA becomes available to applicants as an application type. Class MA takes over the relay from Class O on the same day and you can read our short guide on Class MA at https://www.tpexpert.org/knowledge/class-ma-commercial-business-and-service-uses-to-dwellinghouses/

One of the allowances within Class MA is the provision that buildings within Conservation Areas are not exempt from the class and can be converted. This is subject to clause (e) which states:

(e)where the building is located in a conservation area, and the development involves a change of use of the whole or part of the ground floor,the impact of that change of use on the character or sustainability of the conservation area;

Class MA does not seek to control the loss of vacant shopping uses aside from the requirement that the property must be vacant for 3 months. Para 7.7 of the explanatory memorandum states:

7.7 The Class MA right will provide for the change of use from any use within the Commercial, Business and Service use class (E) to residential (class C3) use. In order to prevent gaming, the building must have been in Commercial, Business and Service use for two years before benefiting from the right…..To protect successful businesses, the right will require the building to have been vacant for three continuous months immediately before the date of application for prior approval. The time that the premises is closed as a result of Government Covid-19 restrictions will not count towards this period where the building continues to be occupied by the owner or tenant. No more than 1,500 sq m of floorspace in any building may change use.

Thus the loss of a Commercial, Business and Service use is implied by the prior approval.

Para 7.8 of the memorandum states:

7.8……the impact of the loss of ground floor Commercial, Business and Service use on the character and sustainability of a conservation area.

Thus within para 7.8 does this give a Council a potential push back to Prior Approval in terms of the loss of the use on the character and sustainability of a Conservation Area?

The paragraph is sufficiently grey that most Council’s and their Conservation Officers will undoubtedly attempt to link use to character in order to retain an otherwise vacant shop in preference to seeking an appropriate alternative use. This is notwithstanding the comments within para 200 of the 2019 NPPF which states;

  1. Local planning authorities should look for opportunities for new development within
    Conservation Areas
    and World Heritage Sites, and within the setting of heritage
    assets, to enhance or better reveal their significance. Proposals that preserve those
    elements of the setting that make a positive contribution to the asset (or which
    better reveal its significance) should be treated favourably.

This does, however, appear to read as a bear trap for those seeking to do a Class MA application within a Conservation Area. Giving thought to the problem there are a number of solutions you could consider.

Seeking a building that is long term vacant should be a starter for 10. This allowance is directly targeted at those buildings which have been allowed to degrade and stagnate. A building that is in that state will benefit from the use and then benefit the Conservation Area.

Remember that external alterations are not allowed and you do not have any Part 7 (Non-domestic) PD allowances within a Conservation Area either so if you want to rip out that shopfront and replace it with something a bit more residential compatible then prepare for a chat with the Conservation Officer.

Finally consider a companion. Clause (e) only applies to development at ground floor level and so you could seek to retain the Ground Floor within Class E and select an appropriate companion use to your residential prospect. Uses that also fall within E include Gyms, Cafe’s Coffee Shops, Business Centres and Clinics and all of the above push your development towards a fashionable co-living footing.

As with all new PD allowances we will need to wait about 8 months (56 days + a 6 month Appeal) for the Inspectorate to settle things down and give us some appropriate decision making behaviour. Until then the LPA’s will be ‘interpreting with extreme prejudice’

By Jon McDermott