The Town Centre First planning policy, which came into effect in March 2012, requires councils to promote development in town centres before allowing out-of-town or edge-of-town sites. It doesn’t appear to be working.
As retail sales recorded a larger-than-expected rise last month, a new threat emerges to the UK High Street.
Sales rose 2.1% in May from the month before, and were up 1.9% from a year earlier, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). But data from the Estates Gazette shows that in 2012 there were 17 planning applications in the UK for either major out-of-town or edge-of-town retail developments, compared to just 7 town centre schemes.
Four out-of-town developments, making up nearly half of the total space applied for, have already received consent, one has officer’s recommendation to approve and the other five remain in the balance.
Edward Cooke, director of policy and public affairs at the British Council of Shopping Centres
, said, "The government's Town Centre First planning policy is a vital cog in rejuvenating towns centres,"
"However, there is increasing concern that the policy is not being put into practice by enough local councils, and the latest figures from Estates Gazette seem to provide evidence of this.
"We strongly believe that local authorities need to be more creative and proactive in encouraging retail investment in their town centres, and seriously consider the long-term impact of easier-to-deliver out-of-town solutions."
At a time when all local authorities are under enormous pressure to save money and boost growth which will result in a larger business rates take, out-of-town retail schemes are far easier to build and deliver than those in town.
BUSINESS FOUM COMMENT
Fortunately for Brighton there is very little in the way of nearby out-of-town retail competition and successive administrations have resisted edge-of-town allocations. Consequently when the national retail vacancy rate is over 14%, in Brighton it is just below 6% and the city’s retail offer continues to be vibrant and attractive to residents and visitors alike.
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