Converting a building into a commercial property can present budding business owners with some difficult logistical decisions. When planning and designing your new space, there are a few important things you should bear in mind, including health and safety rules, planning permissions, building regulations, and security issues.

As many of these restrictions and regulations are legal requirements, there can be serious consequences should you fail to take them on board, so it’s vital that you familiarise yourself with them before making any decisions. In this guide, we’ll discuss five of the most important considerations you should bear in mind when converting your space, so you can stay on the right side of the law and make sure your property is safe and secure.

Get permission for a change of use from the council

The most important, and perhaps most challenging, step you will face when converting a building for commercial use is securing permission for a change of use from the local council.

The Town and County Planning Order 1987 organises land and buildings into different categories, known as ‘use classes’. Whether or not you will need planning permission is dictated by which use class your building falls into, and what you plan to use it for: for instance, a conversion from a shop into an estate agents or similar will not usually require permission.

You can find out whether you will need permission for a change of use in this table on the Planning Portal. You should bear in mind that, when converting residential property into a commercial building of any use class, you will almost always need to obtain planning permission.

Make sure the building you plan to convert is suitable

Before you commit to buying a property or signing a lease, carefully consider whether it will suit your needs as a business. For example, if you plan to knock through multiple rooms to create a shop floor space, you will need to have the property surveyed to make sure the current layout is suitable, and that any central supports or load bearing walls will not get in the way of your plans.

Don’t forget to learn more about the area surrounding the building, too, as plumbing, drainage pipes, and rights of way could all prevent you from carrying out building work. Discovering that a property you have already committed to isn’t suitable for your plans would be devastating, so be sure to make all the necessary checks before you sign on the dotted line.

Check whether building regulations apply to your conversion

Even if your conversion project doesn’t involve much physical construction, building regulations can still apply when taking a premises from one use class to another. These regulations are set and enforced by your local building control body, so you should contact them directly to find out how likely it is they will apply to your project.

You can also read up on your obligations using this government guide to building regulations, which will tell you how to apply if you do discover you need approval.

Remember, if you fail to comply with the proper building regulations, the local authority may have the right to order you to make major changes to the construction of your building, and could even revoke any licences you need in order to operate.

Ensure your building meets fire safety regulations

Health and safety precautions are a vital consideration for any growing business. As the owner of the company, you will have a duty to safeguard your customers and employees while they are on your property so, if you run a business in England or Wales, you need to comply with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

Essentially, to comply with the regulations, you will need to fit your building with fire exits and doors, and you’ll also need to ensure that a proper fire escape plan is in place. While there’s no set number of fire exits your property will need to comply, the government recommends that you take into account factors like the size of the building and what it is used for: you can find out exactly how many fire exits your business should have in this guide from Bradbury Group.

Although the regulations can seem complicated and inconvenient at first, remember that the rules are only in place to protect you, your visitors, and your staff from harm.

Increase security to meet your needs

A building that houses a commercial business has very different security needs to an ordinary residential property. As the majority of businesses tend to be empty during the night (or, as may be the case for bars and restaurants, the day) you’ll need increased security during the hours the property is vacant and unguarded. This is especially important if your business will have valuable stock or a safe left on the premises while it stands empty.

For peace of mind, consider investing in increased security measures. Roller blinds and shutters will protect your business from burglary or vandalism, and you should also consider fitting grilles or security doors at entrances and exits. Your building should have an effective security alarm, and remember to have a comprehensive insurance policy in place to cover you in case of theft and damage.

While converting a property into a commercial business can seem like a headache at first, it doesn’t have to be stressful. Just bear these considerations in mind, and you can soon start transforming your next business premises with confidence.

Further reading on commercial property

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