Planning permission is required for a material change in use of buildings or land.
Generally, planning permission is not required when the existing and the proposed uses fall within the same use class. Some changes from one use class to another are covered by what are known as 'permitted development rights'. In these cases, there is no need to obtain planning permission as it is deemed to be given.
At the moment, there is no permitted development right allowing restaurants and cafés (use class A3) and pubs (use class A4) to change their use to hot food takeaways (use class A5). This means that businesses need to make an application for planning permission to the relevant planning authority.
The government is proposing to introduce a temporary permitted development right so that restaurants, cafés and pubs can temporarily change their use to hot food takeaways for up to 12 months without having to make a planning application.
However, businesses will still be required to tell the relevant planning authority when the new use begins and ends. In addition, the relaxations only apply to hot food and drinks, so serving of alcoholic drinks will still be subject to existing licensing rules.
The government is intending to put these changes into place 'as soon as possible' but has provided no further comment on the likely timescales. Legislation has now come into force, creating a temporary permitted development right operating within a new Use Class DA. This allows restaurants, pubs and cafés to temporarily change use of their property to provide takeaway food until 23 March 2021. After this date, or if a business stops providing takeaway food before this date, the use of the property will revert to its previous lawful use.
While the government proceeds to action the proposed changes, it is worth thinking about the practicalities of adapting your business model to cope e.g. setting up sufficient methods of communication your customers can use to place their orders.
If your business is operating under a tenancy, it is a good time to check the user provisions in your lease. Even if the government relaxes the planning rules, your lease may specify that the premises can only be used for a specific purpose. If hot food takeaways are not included as a permitted use, you risk being in breach of your lease. To avoid this, you may need to get in contact with your landlord to obtain written consent to change the use of the premises. Given the current climate, your landlord is likely to be open to an application for change of use to assist you in maintaining your business as this will be in their interests too.