England’s updated Guidance on town centres and retail

townscape plus peopleUpdated guidance on planning for retail and other town centre uses has been issued for England by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG).

image: for illustration purposes only – Fiona Newton

…need to consider structural changes in the economy…

… compulsory purchase powers can support delivery of a wide variety of development…

Any strategy should be based on evidence…

MHCLG writes:

This replaces the previous guidance on Ensuring the vitality of town centres. See previous version

Planning for town centre vitality and viability

What role can planning authorities play in supporting the management, adaptation and growth of town centres? For planning purposes, town centres as defined in the National Planning Policy Framework comprise a range of locations where main town centre uses are concentrated, including city and town centres, district and local centres (and so includes places that are often referred to as high streets). Local planning authorities can take a leading role in promoting a positive vision for these areas, bringing together stakeholders and supporting sustainable economic and employment growth. They need to consider structural changes in the economy, in particular changes in shopping and leisure patterns and formats, the impact these are likely to have on individual town centres, and how the planning tools available to them can support necessary adaptation and change.

A wide range of complementary uses can, if suitably located, help to support the vitality of town centres, including residential, employment, office, commercial, leisure/entertainment, healthcare and educational development. The same is true of temporary activities such as ‘pop ups’, which will often benefit from permitted development rights. Residential development in particular can play an important role in ensuring the vitality of town centres, giving communities easier access to a range of services. Given their close proximity to transport networks and local shops and services, local authorities may wish to consider locating specialist housing for different groups including older people within town centres or edge of centre locations.

Evening and night time activities have the potential to increase economic activity within town centres and provide additional employment opportunities. They can allow town centres to diversify and help develop their unique brand and offer services beyond retail. In fostering such activities, local authorities will also need to consider and address any wider impacts in relation to crime, noise and security…..

What planning tools are available to local planning authorities to help them shape and support town centres?

The key way to set out a vision and strategy for town centres is through the development plan and (if needed) supplementary planning documents. Planning policies are expected to define the extent of primary shopping areas. Authorities may, where appropriate, also wish to define primary and secondary retail frontages where their use can be justified in supporting the vitality and viability of particular centres. In addition, a range of other planning tools can help to support town centres to adapt and thrive:

  • Local Development Orders can provide additional planning certainty and help to bring forward development as part of a wider strategy to regenerate a town centre.
  • Neighbourhood Development Order can be used in designated neighbourhood areas to grant planning permission for development specified in an Order. They give communities the opportunity to bring forward the type of development they wish to see in their neighbourhood areas.
  • brownfield registers contain details of previously-developed land that is suitable for housing development, which may help in identifying land in and around town centres that could be used for homes.
  • local authorities have extensive compulsory purchase powers, which may help to support identified development opportunities in town centres. The exercise of compulsory purchase powers can support delivery of a wide variety of development and regeneration projects – ranging from the refurbishment of empty properties, to comprehensive town centre redevelopment schemes…..

Which stakeholders are important when planning for town centres?

Effective and creative leadership by local authorities and other stakeholders is key in bringing forward a vision for town centres that meets wider economic and community needs. Stakeholders with an interest in the success of the town centre should be encouraged to engage in the evolving vision for it. The stakeholders that need to be involved will depend on the local context, but could include:

  • local authorities (and teams within them responsible for matters such as economic development)
  • Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs)
  • members of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs)
  • Mayoral or combined authorities
  • neighbourhood planning groups
  • residents/general public (including those working and studying in the area)
  • community and amenity groups/community interest companies
  • landowners
  • private sector businesses/representative groups (e.g. chambers of commerce, trade associations)
  • town centre managers…

What can a town centre strategy contain?

Any strategy should be based on evidence of the current state of town centres and the opportunities that exist to accommodate a range of suitable development and support their vitality and viability. Strategies can be used to establish:

  • the realistic role, function and hierarchy of town centres over the plan period. Given the uncertainty in forecasting long-term retail trends and consumer behaviour, this assessment may need to focus on a limited period (such as the next five years) but will also need to take the lifetime of the plan into account and be regularly reviewed.
  • the vision for the future of each town centre, including the most appropriate mix of uses to enhance overall vitality and viability.
  • the ability of the town centre to accommodate the scale of assessed need for main town centre uses, and associated need for expansion, consolidation, restructuring or to enable new development or the redevelopment of under-utilised space. It can involve evaluating different policy options (for example expanding the market share of a particular centre) or the implications of wider policy such as infrastructure delivery and demographic or economic change.
  • how existing land can be used more effectively – for example the scope to group particular uses such as retail, restaurant and leisure activities into hubs or for converting airspace above shops.
  • opportunities for improvements to the accessibility and wider quality of town centre locations, including improvements to transport links in and around town centres and enhancement of the public realm (including spaces such as public squares, parks and gardens).
  • what complementary strategies are necessary or appropriate to enhance the town centre and help deliver the vision for its future, and how these can be planned and delivered. For example, this may include consideration of how parking charges and enforcement can be made proportionate.
  • the role that different stakeholders can play in delivering the vision. If appropriate, it can help establish the level of cross-boundary/strategic working or information sharing required between both public and private sector groups.
  • appropriate policies to address environmental issues facing town centres, including opportunities to conserve and enhance the historic environment.

Read more….

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