The efforts of both national and local government to tackle the problems of town centres has come under strong attack from MPs and the former high street tsar today.

The Communities and Local Government Select Committee claimed the National Planning Policy Framework was being mishandled by councils, with local planning a bureaucratic mess, which had ignored changes in shopping habits and lacked proper data.

Meanwhile, Mary Portas, whose report on the high street came three years ago this week, accused the government of making “token gestures” and ignoring the real issues such as business rates.

The committee found a large number of local plans had either not been written or were insufficient or out of date. It also said councils showed too little flexibility in areas such as change of use and breaking up large developments to fit into available town centre sites.

The attack was welcomed by ACS chief executive James Lowman, who gave evidence to the committee.

“The Committee have identified the key problems with how the National Planning Policy Framework is being interpreted by local authorities,” he said.

“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.

Portas told the BBC there needed to be urgent action to tackle “crippling “ business rates, adding: “The government has made token gestures in response to my review, but much more needs to happen, and fast”.