Relaxing planning regulations

Under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) Order 2013, the Government has lessened the planning restrictions for hotels converting to state-funded schools, academies or nurseries.  As we climb out of the recession, hoteliers have struggled and may continue to struggle financially from a period of reduced consumer spending. Some may even consider selling and/or changing their hotels to another use. This article examines the reform and controls on a property’s change of use generally.

Change of use - the planning regime

Planning permission is required for any development on land. Development is defined as the "carrying out of building, engineering, mining or other operations in, on, over or under the land or the making of any material change in the use of any buildings or other land". Therefore, if there is a material change of use it is necessary to obtain planning permission.

If a property is used for a different use but within the same use class or in some cases, a similar use class, planning permission is not required. For example, a restaurant can convert to a café because both are within use class A3 (restaurants and cafés). Furthermore, the law stipulates that material changes of use between particular use classes are permitted, for instance class A5 (hot food takeaways) to class A3 (restaurants and cafés), A2 (professional and financial services) or A1 (shops). These are known as “permitted development rights”.

However, some local planning authorities can suspend permitted development rights in their area or existing planning permissions and obligations may restrict the operation of use classes and permitted development rights and such rights do not in any extent extend to listed buildings. Therefore, it is recommended that checks are carried out with the local planning department before relying on permitted development rights.

The reform – hotels to schools

It is now permitted development for premises within certain use classes including C1 (hotels) to change to state-funded schools, academies or nurseries. A prior approval application in respect of highways, transport, noise impacts and risk of contamination, is required to ensure any impact of the change of use is mitigated.

Following the change of use, schools and nurseries are allowed to build fences up to 2m fronting a highway, provided they do not obstruct views for people using the highway. There is no need for planning permission provided that the increase of the original building’s total floor space is no more than 10% or volume by 250 cubic metres.

It should also be noted changing agricultural buildings under 500 square metres to hotels now constitutes permitted development. For agricultural buildings between 150 and 500 square metres a prior approval application, covering flooding, highways and transport impacts, and noise is required. Development is however not permitted if the building has not been solely in agricultural use (i) since 3 July 2012; or (ii) for building first brought into use after 3 July 2012 for ten years.

Other considerations

Even if a change of use is acceptable, those involved should ensure there is no building, engineering, or other operations outside the scope of permitted development including changes to external appearance is carried out without obtaining any additional permission required. Further, any alteration whether pursuant to permitted development rights or otherwise will also need to comply with building regulations.

Plan carefully

It is unlikely that there will be huge demand to turn hotels into state schools or nurseries. By contrast there may be more opportunities to convert attractive agricultural buildings into country hotels. The law has only been relaxed slightly and those in the hospitality industry considering a change of use can still be faced with much red-tape. Despite the reform it is wise to seek planning advice before changing the use of a property.