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Pressure on Government to Strengten Protection of Town Centres

13th October 2011, by

Alongside the high profile battle currently being fought out in the media between the government and environmental, conservation and local interest groups on the National Planning Policy Framework and its apparent relaxation of planning rules on development, it now appears that pressure is beginning to grow on the Coalition Government to reiterate its support for the High Street in the NPPF when it is published in its final form.

Some commentators have seen the NPPF as potentially relaxing existing controls on out-of-centre development. The last few days has seen the Co-Op, John Lewis and the 'Queen of Shops' Mary Portas lending their support to a campaign to see existing controls maintained and, in some cases, even extended.

In its written evidence to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee's inquiry into the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the JLP gave strong support for the government's 'town centre first' and argued that this, and the application of the sequential approach had "served town centres well for almost two decades and we consider this must be maintained as part of any national policy framework". JLP expressed concern that "the language of the NPPF falls short of giving the necessary weight to the sequential and impact tests" and "it is very unclear how the town centre first policies and the presumption in favour of sustainable development relate to each other".

The submission follows on from comments made by Nigel Smith, strategic planning manager at the Co-operative Group, at a Liberal Democrat party conference fringe meeting where he said that "we're concerned that the recently published NPPF could inadvertently threaten town centre first policy." Similarly, Mary Portas has already warned that the wording of the draft NPPF would water down the town centre first policy and has indicated that she would be writing to the PM specifically on this matter before completing her report on the future of Britain's High Streets.

The coalition government continues to deny that the NPPF would weaken town centre first rules. Planning minister Greg Clark has already told MPs earlier this month: "National policy will continue to be clear that retail schemes should be in town centres. That is crystal clear."

Clear it may be, but I suspect that the paragraphs in the draft NPPF that deal with retail development may be in for some redrafting and "clarification" in the final version!

Watch this space.


By Huw Williams