The government and local councils are not taking the ‘town centre first’ planning policy seriously enough and the whole planning system is “rudderless.”

That is the verdict of the Association of Convenience Stores after new figures released this week showed that of the 30 million sq ft of new grocery floorspace approved for development, 83% is for out-of-town supermarkets.

The figures from the CBRE Grocery Outlets in the Pipeline report also revealed just 7% of this space is actually under construction.

This was down year on year, said ACS chief executive James Lowman, who warned supermarkets had fallen into a “paranoid fervour that makes companies conclude they must pursue development even if they don’t plan to use it for fear someone else might.”

Lowman argued these land banks created uncertainty and acted as a deterrent for retailers looking to invest in town centres and high streets.

“We seem to have the worst of all worlds. Millions of square feet of retail floorspace with planning approval sitting outside our town centres, acting as a deterrent to any serious investors in the local centre, and yet no real intention on the part of the developer to actually build the store,” he said. “ACS has long campaigned for government and councils to take the commitment to ‘town centre first’ seriously, but these figures reinforce our own research that suggests the planning system is increasingly rudderless.”

CBRE figures reported earlier this week showed the amount of floor space in pre-planning has fallen from 18.51m sq ft to 15.22m sq ft over the past year - the lowest since 2008 - as retailers cut back on capex in the form of larger stores and extensions in favour of smaller supermarkets and c-stores.