An irreverent look at some of the hot topics in planning. All commentary is given in good faith but does not constitute advice! For specific help on planning matters, please contact us.

The rise of the shed

March 15th, 2021

Everyone loves a garden shed. A plain, low cost multi-purpose space that that can meet pretty much whatever needs you throw at it. Storage? Bring it on. A workshop? Of course. A refuge from screaming kids during lockdown, equipped with a bar and pinball machine? Quite possibly.

Thanks to the unlikely triumvirate of Brexit, Covid and changes to the Use Classes Order (in England) the usefulness of the garden shed’s bigger sibling, the industrial shed has now finally been recognised as the development superstar that it undoubtedly is.

Unreliable supply chains for goods emanating from our biggest trading partner, the EU have put the ‘just in time’ approach to the distribution of goods under pressure with a need for more UK based storage to help iron out the hiccups.

Meanwhile, Covid has encouraged and accelerated the move towards internet retailing, with retail distribution warehouses permitted to trade while retail outlets are shut. This has also accelerated the emergence of “dark” retail stores for main high street brands where goods can be delivered direct to customers doors without the rent, rates and staff costs of the High Street and the certainty that trade won’t be again interrupted by something as inconvenient as a global health pandemic. Storage sheds are not new; but sheds that have the potential to upset the town centres first narrative certainly are.

Even the food and drink sector has jumped in, with the “Deliveroo-isation” of the market seeing small “dark kitchen” operations out of Class B1c units (as was, in England) and sui generis larger kitchens operating elsewhere.

Then in England there is the new Class E use class which, at a stroke, has allowed existing Class B1 units that are not otherwise restricted to turn to retail and other town centre uses without the need for permission and without the need for those complicated and often expensive retail impact assessments and compliance with the utterly pointless sequential test. Far easier to take space in a Class B1 shed than to try and play with restrictions on an existing out of centre retail park to accommodate a food or non-bulky retail use.

To cap it all, on the back of all these changes, funds and landowners are beginning to recognise that this a sector to be in, with renewed interest in secondary stock in some locations and creation of new distribution-based developments in others, especially near the motorway network.

This increasing recognition of the value of shed space brings about lots of challenges for local planning authorities. Outside of the main urban areas development plans are generally poorly placed to anticipate non-traditional employment uses of shed space; and unsurprisingly, none make provision for Class E. Similarly, development plans have never really had to consider in any great depth what alternative uses might suit space in an ageing out of town retail development. After all, fifteen years ago, these were the crown jewels of any development portfolio.

In the late 1990s when retail was the flavour of the month for the property sector and was evolving at a rapid rate, development plans almost gave up on trying to craft up-to-date retail policies, with decision making falling to the then national policy and guidance found in PPG6 and PPS6. Development plans were all but redundant for retail development at that time.

The NPPF may be oddly clunky and in an unprintable format, but it is adaptable and can be (and likely will be) amended to reflect the changes in this sector once the budget is out for the way. Will this leave development plans in pretty much the same position of redundancy as far as sheds are concerned? Very possibly. Does this mean that developers need to stay on top of changes in national planning policy in this area? Definitely.

You may have permission for a B1 unit that you have to build for that use, but what use will it be in ten years hence? Should you plan for installing infrastructure into such units to allow for potential future retail or leisure use? Should you specify the construction any differently to maximise flexibility and long term investment value? What about older B1 space? What potential does it have to change to other uses?

All this underscores just how dynamic the economy is; how cumbersome some parts of the planning system are is in adapting to change; and how complex it now is for developers and landowners to understand and use the planning system to best effect.

It’s a good job then that while we at Mango are confined to our own sheds this lockdown, our knowledge distribution service to our clients remain fully operational!