New flexibility introduced by the amendments to the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 has created Use Class E, a single Use Class that permits a number of activities in a property, from retail and food and drink, to financial and professional services, indoor sport, medical services, day nurseries, and office use.  Use Class E recognises that a building may have concurrent different uses or be used for different purposes at different times.

For existing assets, whilst this does mean that the planning process has been somewhat streamlined for those developers considering repurposing their properties (a prime example must of course be the changing face of the high street), there will still be the issue of a costly refurbishment or even full redevelopment project.  These can be disproportionately fiddly projects, especially for older buildings, such as the £1bn redevelopment of Whiteleys Shopping Centre.  

Where this may bring some real advantages, however, is where developers pair the Use Class E flexibility with the benefits of platform design and modern methods of construction (MMC), and of course the digital twin.

The use of digital design can allow designers to explore what is technically achievable using variable data, computational design and algorithms.  This means developers are able to model anything from minor reconfigurations to complete re-purposing of their assets - all without moving a single partition wall or knocking through a floor slab.

Once the decision is made, those buildings designed using a platform approach from the outset (key to this being standardised components across different build types) will make that re-purposing project extremely straightforward.  In short, the lifecycle of a building could see it go from being used for retail, to residential, and then to a mixed-use asset combining a creche on the ground floor and offices above - all without significant redevelopment as the core elements of the building would remain the same.

Bryden Wood has developed digital configurators as early-stage design tools which enable a much faster design process than traditional methods. They use standardising at component level, and a range of simulation tools (which consider a variety of architectural and environmental factors and data) to refine the design. 

This blend of modern, flexible planning policy, platform design and modern methods of construction could be the catalyst for improved efficiency, quality, and sustainability in the lifecycle of our buildings.

Carys Sherwood & Matt Crossley