Planning and development control

So legally, workhomes can have two primary uses, ie home and work; or one primary and one ancillary use, ie work with ancillary home use or home with ancillary work use. This echoes the dominant function typology for the workhome: 'home-dominated', 'work-dominated' and 'equal-status'.

The 1947 Town and Country Planning Act established the principle that Planning Permission is required for land development in the UK. This permission is based on local Development Plans and makes developing dual-use buildings difficult in two ways.

First, there has been a tendency for Development Plans to be based on functional zoning, which creates an inherent separation between residential, commercial and industrial areas. This makes the fine-grain mixed-use of the workhome development difficult to accommodate. While 'mixed-use' is now generally accepted as a principle in Development Planning, this is generally approached from the position of agglomerating single uses within a larger building, rather than creating dual-use buildings like workhomes.

Second, the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 is based on a mono-functional classification system, known as the 'Use Class Order'. Land and buildings are categorised according to a variety of mono-functional categories such as 'dwellinghouse', 'restaurant', or 'shop'. Dual-use buildings do not sit easily within this system. For example, while funeral directors are classified as 'A1 Shops',  funeral directors always live on the premises. This means funeral parlours are dual-use workhomes, incorporating both dwellinghouse and shop elements.

Strategies to circumvent Planning difficulty in developing workhomes

The UK home-based workforce is, however, growing rapidly; this means the number of workhomes must also be proliferating, despite these difficulties. Three strategies are in general use that make this possible:

The first is to restrict the development of workhomes to the lawful 'residential with ancillary employment use'. Developers often tuck a desk under the stairs, or in a spare bedroom, in contemporary residential developments. But this often does not provide the home-based worker with appropriate space to accommodate their occupation, which may range from childminding to costume-making. And it does not address the complex issue of how to combine/separate the two aspects of people's lives, home and work in a single building.

The second strategy involves people ignoring the law in this area and operating covertly. Otherwise law-abiding citizens [a suburban hairdresser comes to mind], pillars of their local communities, find themselves in this position because they do not consider they will be granted planning permission for their dual-use building. The is not good for them as individuals, potentially criminalising upstanding members of society, or for their local neighbourhoods where the impact of this fine grain mixed-use is lost.

The third strategy is to make a notional separation between the 'workplace' and 'home' areas of the workhome. A clear example of this is Sarah Wigglesworth Architects' Strawbale House at 9-11 Stock Orchard Street, London. Here the office has B1 planning permission [business] while the C3(a) planning permission [single family dwellinghouse], despite the fact that they are two elements of a single building, with a central pivot space that is meeting room during the day and dining room in the evening and at weekends.


The term ‘live/work’ entered the English language in the 1970s, coined to develop and market loft-style apartments in New York. A valuable commodity was created from the unpromising raw material of generally disused, semi-derelict factories and warehouses located in an area with minimal infrastructure, lacking schools, health facilities, shops or other local amenities. This was achieved through a process of branding; a new model of urban lifestyle emerging that was marketed energetically.

The ‘live/work’ apartments were intended to embody the bohemian, creative, qualities of artists’ lofts. While the idea clearly appealed to the thousands of young professionals who bought these properties, in reality many of them never worked in their live/work units. For an emerging middle-class, high-earning group, the ideal of the suburban house was swiftly overtaken by chic images of inner-city loft living. This pattern of development was repeated in old industrial cities across the Western world, encouraged by public policy and regeneration practice. And as a result the live/work unit was widely dismissed as a scam by planning authorities (who saw developments being inhabited in ways they had not predicted and achieving almost residential prices) despite, paradoxically, being a building type needed as never before.

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