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“I’ve found an ideal location for a bar, but the building is currently an office. Can I convert it?” N. Cooper, Bristol. Answered by guest contributor Jane Preston. Well, firstly, I am sure you are not alone, as I suspect we’ve all come across a property that we’ve immediately thought “wow, now that would make a fantastic bar, restaurant, home, etc”. However, spotting an opportunity and realising it are, unfortunately, two very different matters . . . Most properties in the UK have their ‘use’ defined by the local authority and, in order that those looking to buy, lease or occupy a property understand the allowed use of a property, each type of property falls within a specific category (ie a restaurant, a church, a sports stadium, etc). These are known as ‘Use Classes’. The Use Classes are defined by The Town and Country Planning Order 1987. The most common uses are B1 (offices and light industrial), A1 (shop) and C3 (dwelling house). As an occupier, you can change the use of a property within the same Use Class without needing planning permission, for instance, you could turn a shop selling shoes into a shop selling groceries without a change of use consent. However, a shop selling shoes cannot be turned into an Estate Agent without planning consent as Estate Agency is a different use class (A2). In some cases it is possible to move from one Use Class to another without the need for planning consent IF this is allowed by “Permitted Development Rights”. This is a hot topic at the moment and proving to be very controversial due to recent legislation that allows for office use (B1a) to be changed to residential use without a change of use consent. (Note: Central London is excluded from this scheme!) So, why the need for Use Classes? Well, it gives the Planners a framework in which to ensure plans for their area are realised. For example, potential problems with late-night revellers in residential areas can be kept to a minimum by ensuring nearby commercial properties do not have A4 use (drinking establishments) – hence the problem you are going to face with getting permission for your ideally located office to be converted to a bar! So, to directly answer the question, the answer is no! Offices are in B1 Use Class and drinking establishments are in A4, so planning consent for the change of use would be needed. Of course, gaining the change of use would only be the first hurdle to overcome and planning would also be needed for any physical changes. Our general 4-step guide is: establish which Use Class the property you have your eye on currently falls within (this is not always as straightforward as it should be!) ; check to see if you can change between the current use and any proposed use without planning permission; If you do approach your planning authority (The Council) for advice, do not be surprised if they are less than helpful – their response will probably be “we can’t comment, put a planning application in”; nobody said it would be easy – planning really is a minefield! Professional advice (from a Planning Consultant or Chartered Surveyor) is highly recommended – the experts will have experience in dealing with planning officers and can advise you on how high your chances are of realising your cocktails and dreams! This blog was written by Jane Preston for