Use classes, change of use and permitted development

The Town & Country Planning Act divides land into various use classes. These are outlined in the Use Classes Order. Pubs are mostly in use class A4. A pub building may not have its use class changed without planning permission.

Use classes

Pubs fall into the “general retail” use class – class A. This group is sub-divided into:

A1 Shops – Shops, retail warehouses, hairdressers, undertakers, travel and ticket agencies, post offices, pet shops, sandwich bars, showrooms, domestic hire shops, dry cleaners, funeral directors and internet cafes.
A2 Financial and professional services – Financial services such as banks and building societies, professional services (other than health and medical services) and including estate and employment agencies. It does not include betting offices or pay day loan shops – these are now classed as “sui generis” uses (see below).
A3 Restaurants and cafés – For the sale of food and drink for consumption on the premises – restaurants, snack bars and cafes.
A4 Drinking establishments – Public houses, wine bars or other drinking establishments (but not night clubs).
A5 Hot food takeaways – For the sale of hot food for consumption off the premises.

Pubs will typically fall into use class A4. Some pubs may prefer to be classed as A3, particularly if their business is food-led. Councils do not keep lists of which land is in which class and the actual use class is often a matter of some debate, triggered when a planning application is submitted or when development takes place. Some land in mixed use will meet various use class descriptions.

Change of use and permitted development

Historically, it was possible to change the use of an A class premises without requiring permission, as long as the use was changed to a lower number within the A class of uses.  This was known as “permitted development”.  From 2017, permitted development rights have been removed for A4 premises (though they still exist for A5, A3, A2 and, A1 use classes). This means that any change of use away from A4 is now subject to planning control.

Tip: Some people may argue that their premises is A3, and therefore permitted development rights still exist.  In these cases, the Council’s planning officer would need to bring an enforcement case against the owner.  It is likely to be down to campaigners to contact the Council to point out that enforcement is necessary.

Curry restaurant in former pub building

Masala Zone; permitted development allowed this former pub to become a restaurant