With both the Prime Minister and the Housing Secretary talking recently of increasing flexibility regarding high street uses, a loosening of the use classes order or the widening of permitted development rights (or both) seems to be on the cards.

For some time the emerging pattern of town centre uses has struggled to cope with the inflexibility of the 'A' use classes. As an example, uses including nail bars, book shops, hairdessers and tailors all wanting to combine coffee shops with their existing use, and only able to do so on the basis that such activities are 'ancillary'.  More blatantly some coffee shops have insisted that their use is A1, when the format was much more obviously A3.

Therefore, Housing secretary Robert Jenrick's announcement of proposals to introduce a new use class to create a broad category of 'commercial, business and service' uses as part of a package of measures to revitalise town centres, is welcome.   However, would it be too much to ask for a short period of consultation before such measures are hurried through, to iron out any wrinkles?

In particular is another 'dash for residential' appropriate, or should the first option be to allow other employment generating uses, and only if that isn't possible, to allow the flexibility of residential uses in town centres.  There are also concerns about protecting valued uses like pubs, village shops and theatres and ensuring that ground floor frontages remain attractive.

Whilst additional planning flexibility is welcomed and necessary, there still remains a role for managing uses in town centres to help maintain their vitality and attractiveness.