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'Town Centre First' Development Policy is Failing English High Streets

The recently completed Portas review has identified the need for government to get tougher on out of town developments as central to its proposed changes to planning policy.

The government's commissioned review of the high streets set out a series of 28 recommendations aimed at re-establishing growth on Britain's high streets. Central to these was a call for an explicit presumption in favour of town centre development to be incorporated in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) "so it's clear that people and places come first and the policy is less vulnerable to legal disputes".

The current draft NPPF document states "Local planning authorities should prefer applications for retail and leisure uses to be located in town centres where practical, then in edge of centre locations, and only if suitable sites are not available should out of centre sites be considered", but the Portas review wanted to go further to make this unequivocal.

To re-enforce this desire to restrict out of town centre developments, it is also recommended that the Communities Secretary makes greater use of his call in powers to assess such developments, reverse the presumption and provide only "exceptional sign off[s]" on these schemes. Figures in the report state that out of 146 developments that have been referred to the government in the last three years (since 2008), only one has been called in.

According to figures released alongside the report, out of town floorspace has grown by 30% over the last decade (2000-2011) whilst floorspace in town centres has shrunk by nearly 15%. This is a trend that is predicted to continue unless significant steps are taken. The review has made suggestions to run a number of pilot schemes with the government set to issue a response in the spring.

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