Class MA - Breathing new life into the british high street

Class MA (Mercantile to Abode) allows for the conversion of commercial buildings to houses without the need to apply for planning permission. Coming into force in 2021, and updated in 2024 - Class MA replaces Classes G, M, and O, and is intended to help revitalise town centres.

February 22, 2024

Latest news: From March 4 2024, the size limit and vacancy requirement for Class MA has been scrapped.

Once the bustling hive of commerce in almost every town across the UK, the British high street faces its most dire challenge in decades. 

With almost 6,000 shop closures in the past five years, crippling business rates binding the hands of entrepreneurs, and our changing habits altering the way we shop, it's time to ask the crucial question: Can the high street as we know it, be saved?

H2: Saving the high street through development

While the traditional image of bustling avenues lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants may be waning, the enduring charm and sense of place that a high street commands is harder to erase.

But what if we could give these streets a fresh lease on life, turning them into lively centres where homes play a central role?

H2: Class MA - the key to revitalising our struggling town centres

Class MA Permitted Development Rights grant the conversion of spaces like shops, offices, restaurants, cafes, health services, nurseries, gyms, and leisure facilities (Class E properties) into much-needed homes (C3 residential units). 

This approach offers the potential to revitalise struggling high streets, transforming empty shops and vacant premises into vibrant and lasting mixed-use residential communities.

H2: How much can you develop?

Class MA updates: For any application submitted on or after 5th March 2024, there is now no limit to the floor space that can be converted under Class MA and there is no requirement for the building to be vacant for 3 months. Previously, Class MA opportunities had to be less than 1500 sqm and be vacant for at least 3 months.

This includes the conversion of ground-floor spaces, upper floors, a mix of both, or even entire buildings. 

So, as well as more opportunities to convert bigger units on the high streets, this change will open up opportunities where buildings were previously only partially converted and the remainder left as offices.

Laptop showing Class MA land search on Searchland

H2: What to consider when considering Class MA opportunities?

When preparing submissions under Class MA, there are a few key things to be aware of:

  • The property has to have been Use Class E for at least two years
  • From March 4 2024 the requirement for buildings to have been vacant for 3 months has been scrapped.
  • The development must be completed within 3 years of prior approval
  • From March 4 2024 the previous floorspace limit of 1,500 sqm has been scrapped
  • Conversion of health centres and nurseries requires an impact assessment first 
  • The usual places like listed buildings, scheduled monuments, sites of special scientific interest, safety hazard zones, land that comes under Article 2(3), and military explosives areas are still out, but you can make changes in conservation areas
  • If a building requires additional windows, an additional planning application may need to be submitted
  • There may be a fee of £100 - £5000 per new home
  • Some local authorities are planning to bring in new Article 4 restrictions preventing parts of their area from being converted

H2: Class MA Prior Approval Requirements

While Class M opportunities skirt the need for certain forms of development to occur with full planning permission, prior approval requirements still apply, which can include assessments related to the impact on transport and highways, contamination risks, flood vulnerability, noise considerations, window proposals, living space standards, and, concerning the change of use of a health centre or nursery - the impact on the local provision of services lost. 

H2: Sourcing Class MA opportunities with Searchland

Discovering promising commercial opportunities has never been easier with our 'one-click' Class MA search. Searchland efficiently gathers all the suitable sites within your chosen area, including estimated development costs, plot size, existing planning applications, and title details - for you to scan through at pace.

We can also get the official land owner's name and address so you can begin securing these sites and even get the ball rolling by contacting owners with our integrated letter-sending tool. If you’re interested in how to structure your landowner letters, we’ve covered that too.

While we might make this all sound easy, we know that in reality decisions can still go against you. Check out our in-depth review of 3 case studies to show where others went wrong (or right) with Class MA developments.

We’d recommend you jump on a demo with our onboarding team so you can experience our full set of features.

October 17, 2023

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