Campaigners fighting for a stronger town centre first planning policy have applauded the changes made to the government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
The draft version released in July was attacked by critics, who said the language used in the policy surrounding town centres was open to interpretation - and could even weaken town centre first policy.
But changes made to the draft have strengthened the wording relating to town centres and sewn up loopholes. The text which relates to town centre development has also been bumped up from page 19 of the draft release to page 7 of the new policy.
Wording has been strengthened in several areas. The original section heading which referred to town centres suggested planning authorities “Promote the vitality and viability of town centres”. That has been replaced by the stronger “Ensuring the vitality of town centres”.
New text has also been introduced calling for “competitive town centres that provide customer choice and a diverse retail offer which reflects the individuality of town centres”.
The draft version also suggested planning authorities should “prefer” applications for retail and leisure uses to be located in town centres “where practical”. Campaigners suggested the words ‘prefer’ and ‘where practical’ were open to interpretation. The final policy instructs planning authorities to “require” applications for retail to be located in town centres, rather than “prefer”. It has also removed the “where practical”.
In addition, the draft policy instructed planning authorities to consider the future impact of development on town centres. However, that paragraph has also been strengthened. It now reads if any application is likely to have a “significant adverse impact” on town centres it “should be refused.”
The final policy has also toned down its overarching pro-growth agenda. It has completely removed the sentence in the draft version which said “decision-takers at every level should assume that the default answer to development proposals is ‘yes’”.
The ACS welcomed the stronger language surrounding town centre development used in the policy, but said it hoped planning authorities would follow through with the policy to make it work.
“We welcome that the language has now been tightened up and made more robust,” said ACS public affairs director Shane Brennan. “But the detail is one thing, now they have to back that up with action to make sure it is enforced.”
BRC director of business Tom Ironside said the changes would encourage vibrant town centres and “play a key role in efforts to revitalise England’s troubled high streets.”