The Government has finally set the date for changes to the Use Classes Order to come into effect.
From 21 April, the old A3 classification - covering restaurants, bars, pubs and take-aways - will be split into three different categories. The A3 class will be reserved for restaurants and cafés, while take-aways will go into class A5 and pubs and bars into A4.
While it will still be possible for A4 drinking establishments to move to A3 use without planning permission after this date, the reverse will not be true. Restaurants will no longer be able to switch or extend usage to take-away or wet-led operations without planning permission from the local authority.
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has not yet published guidance on how transitional arrangements will operate.
Industry experts have warned that the new order will give local councils far greater control over planning permission for food and drinking establishments, and many proposals will be forced into appeal or have to seek arbitration.
"The main problem will be one of definition," said Michael Fearn, of planning consultant Shire Consulting. "For instance, at what point does an A3 restaurant become an A5 take-away, or can a restaurant that only serves food at lunchtime and then becomes a bar in the evening still operate under an A3 use?
"We have ended up with the situation that absolutely identical properties on the same retail park could be treated differently for planning purposes, depending on whether they are occupied by a Pizza Hut A3] or a McDonald's [A5]."
Concerns have also been raised over the impact on rent reviews, with A5 properties gaining in value against less flexible A3 sites.
New Class Order A4: Drinking establishments, including all pubs and bars.
A5: Hot food take-aways.
A3: Now restricted to restaurants and cafés.
Source: Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine, 10 February 2005