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Town centres 'hollowing out' over lack of local plans

Published:  16 December, 2014

Plans for local town centres are missing or out of date - meaning town centres are missing out on vital developments, a new report has found.

The Communities and Local Government Select Committee has published a report criticising the application of planning policy by local authorities. Its report on the operation of the National Planning Policy Framework draws attention to shortcomings in the way planning decisions are reached, and has made a number of recommendations relating to town centres and retail planning.

The report calls for:

  • Streamlining the process of drawing up local plans
  • A change in planning policy to require developers to show flexibility in breaking up large developments to try to fit into available town centre sites
  • The government to gather more data on planning decisions
  • New research on changing shopping habits should be commissioned, and the results fed into a review of planning policy

The Association of Convenience Stores welcomed the report, with chief executive James Lowman, who gave evidence to the committee, saying: "The Committee have identified the key problems with how the National Planning Policy Framework is being interpreted by local authorities.  Developers can exploit the absence of good local plans, and the sequential test that promotes town centre development is not always clearly understood.  Without strong local plans, flexibility and change of use for property will hollow out town centres rather than helping high streets to evolve.

 "We stand by our research into the problems with the planning system, and this report vindicates our view that we need more government action to make the system work better.  We support the National Planning Policy Framework, and we are committed to working with government to make it more effective."

Wine businesses on high streets have faced a raft of fresh challenges in recent years - both from growth of out of town shopping centres, supermarket wine domination and rise in online shopping.