Class MA: Get it right first time

It is crucial to get your Class MA application right the first time. Why? Because it can affect the legality and validity of the application.

Class MA is a type of change of use application that involves converting a commercial property (mercantile) into a residential property (abode). This process involves submitting an application to the relevant local authority or planning department.

If the application is incomplete or inaccurate, it may be rejected or delayed, which will cause further complications and delays in the process.

To avoid further legal intervention, it is crucial to ensure that your application is complete, accurate, and meets all the necessary requirements to avoid any legal or regulatory issues in the future.

Class MA was enacted back in 2021 and since then there have been 3 major learnings.

1) Set up for success

Class MA can give developers a false sense of comfort over the certainty of getting consent. There remain a lot of considerations around a Class MA application where developers need to set up for success, these are the top three:

  • 3 months vacancy – an application for Class MA cannot be made unless the building, or the part of the building that it is intended to convert, has been fully and physically vacant for 3 months. Presenting proof and evidence of this vacancy with your application is crucial as applications are often refused without it.
  • Daylight and sunlight – in almost all cases involving Class MA we have seen; expert advice should be sought early on daylight and sunlight. It is not enough to provide a developer’s view on whether there is enough natural light, because if an officer has concerns later on, they can merely refuse the application without any referral back to the applicant.
  • Noisy neighbours – Noise, especially over weekends or during unsociable hours can affect habitable rooms. As with sunlight and daylight, this should be checked early, and a noise assessment undertaken. Allow up to 2 weeks for any possible mitigations and adjustments to plans to avoid problems further down the line.

2) Hope is not a strategy

Nor is omitting crucial steps in an effort to save costs.

Understand that officers are actively looking for reasons to refuse and reject the application. Officer workload is high and the pressure immense. This has a direct impact on their willingness to ponder or query an application. They will move straight to refusal at the slightest transgression within the process.

Junior Officers are mostly time-poor, and might not have the experience or understand as much as your Planning Consultant.

3) The early bird catches the worm

Or in this case, be aware of any liability for the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) well in advance. CIL is a charge which can be levied by local authorities on new development in their area. It is an important tool for local authorities to use to help them deliver the infrastructure needed to support development in their area. There is possible mitigation if you catch it early enough.

In one case for a client who faced a potential £360,000 CIL bill that would have wiped out the viability of the conversion scheme, we managed to avoid such a liability completely by submitting proof very early on that the floor space had at least been partly let and occupied for at least 6 continuous months in the last 3 years.

Permitted development is often seen as a quick or ‘easy win’ by new developers.  It is no wonder therefore that many applications are still refused by local authorities for failing to make the case properly.

Class MA rights are an important tool for managing risk and delivering a certain level of ‘minimum value’ in a scheme.

However, the process and requirements should not be underestimated, or risks downplayed.  Whilst reports may not be needed to cover all aspects of the assessment, who is instructed, how and when will be critical to the success of your Prior Approval application.

Here’s a useful Class MA Validation Checklist for you to download.

DRK Planning Ltd is a multi-disciplinary planning and development consultancy practice founded by David Kemp. With more than 20 years of experience in planning consultancy. DRK Planning provides a diverse range of expertise, adding value to owners and businesses through a wide range of property services.

If you have an enquiry about Class MA – email info@drkplanning.co.uk we’re happy to discuss your project in an initial brief introductory call.