“Once you have identified a space for your company to occupy, it’s important to ask the landlord to confirm how the building can be used and in particular how the use of the building is classified by the local authorities.
Many business premises are grouped together into classes which define how they can be used and which were created by the Government in the 1987 Use Classes Order. Planning permission is needed in order to switch between classes, unless a 'permitted development right' has been granted.
To find out whether the building you wish to occupy is suitable for your company’s use, start by asking your prospective landlord for advice. It is also crucial to establish the use class that relates to your business operations. The main industrial/warehousing use classes include B1 which refers to Light Industrial uses (no heavy machinery), B2 General Industrial, which refers to most manufacturing users including food production, and B8, which covers storage and distribution.
Business activity which does not slot into a specific use class are known as 'sui generis', a Latin phrase meaning 'unique'. Examples of 'sui generis' uses are petrol stations, retail warehouses and scrap yards.
When investigating a building’s permitted use, first ask your prospective landlord. If the landlord is unable to locate the building’s original consent, you may need to look back through planning records by making an appointment with the local planning office – some landlords will do this on behalf of the incoming occupier.
It is also sensible to look at how the building has been used previously, as any building occupied for 10 consecutive years by the same company carrying out a continuous type of business will have established a lawful practice for that specific use class. For example, if a distribution company has utilised a space for more than 10 years, the building will benefit.
If no planning documents can be located or the facility does not benefit from the correct use class, we would advise that you don’t sign the lease without applying for the right use. Planners do not tend to like retrospective applications. If you do decide to proceed without confirming the right class of use for your building, it’s important to understand that the council can place conditions on a permission which could impact the suitability of the unit for your business. We would therefore suggest exchanging an agreement with your landlord which states that the lease is subject to securing the correct planning consent which contains no onerous conditions.
When applying for the correct use or for a change of use, please be aware that this can take eight weeks from the date of validation before determination. If the application is major or controversial, it will need to go to the local authority planning committee which can take up to 13 weeks. If you are proposing to make alterations to the building as part of your fit-out, which need planning consent, then it may be advisable to submit a single application to save time and money.
In order to prepare applications correctly, we would recommend using a planning consultant. They can guide you through the process, help you to fill out the correct forms, submit the required plans and provide the relevant supporting information.
If the building already benefits from the correct use class, always check whether there are any related conditions attached to the decision. Conditions for uses in the B classes usually relate to noise (especially if the unit is located adjacent to residential properties), parking, hours of use or times of loading, but they can relate to any part of a business operations or use of a building – so always check these thoroughly.
In the eyes of the local council, it is the incoming occupier’s responsibility to ensure they have the correct consents and permissions before moving into a building, but any reputable landlord should be able to assist you and guide you through the correct process.”
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