Two think-tanks, Centre for Cities and Policy Exchange, recently published reports calling for an end to the sequential test. What can planners do to reinvigorate the UK's town centres?
Nicky Linihan, for POS, told Planning magazine "There does not appear to be a recognition or understanding that the sequential test applies not just to retail uses but to other town centre uses as well, to help strengthen the important role that both city and town centres provide from a social and environmental perspective as well as from an economic one. "
Linihan added "Retail should not be viewed just in terms of its role as a job creator but also in terms of how it can act as an attractor of visitors and to support the needs of those working and living in those centres. Many new town centre retail developments look to securing an anchor store to act as a draw. This opens up opportunities for visits to combine a number of activities with one trip. Dispersing retail away from town centres, as has happened in the past, has been seen to have a negative effect on the health of town centres and can impact on regeneration opportunities."
- Town centres, as set out in paragraph 23 of the National Planning Policy Framework, should be the focus for a range of uses which includes, but is not limited to retail. Other uses referred to include leisure, commercial, office, tourism, cultural, community and residential (a full definition of main town centre uses is set out in the glossary to the Framework). In combination they provide the 'mix' which supports the viability and vitality of those centres. In developing local plan town centre policies local planning authorities have to take a 'holistic' view - and not just focus on retail.
- It is important to recognise that the sequential approach does not preclude out of centre development, where a case can be made for it. What it does is provide a proper, evidenced based framework, for assessing the impact or otherwise, of a development. This enables local authorities to make the right decision based on the local circumstances for that particular centre and its wider catchment.
- Local planning authorities, through retail capacity studies and other evidence, are able to consider the right balance of uses for that particular centre. They have the ability to determine the extent of retail activity by defining primary and secondary frontages and setting policies that make it clear what retail floorspace is critical, and where it is possible to enable other uses to be introduced.
- The Framework encourages local planning authorities to assess the capacity of existing centres to accommodate new town/city centre development (for the wide range of uses of town centres, not just retail). Using this evidence local planning authorities can review the boundaries used to define their town/city centres as part of the local plan process. Retail Capacity studies form part of the evidence base, and provide information about the long-term retailing needs for an area. This looks at both comparison and convenience shopping and provides a quantitative and qualitative assessment of what is likely to be needed.
- Nicky Linihan is the Society's Housing, Regeneration & Economic Development Topic Forum Convenor
- The Centre for Cities study can be accessed here
- The Policy Exchange report is available here