Imagine you are offered a manual that tells you how to do your job. Upon flicking through it you discover a number of pages are missing, pages vital in enabling you to fully understand the manual. So much is missing that it is rendered of little use and actually hinders your ability to carry out your tasks.

Sound ridiculous? This is the scenario facing the retail industry in trying to make sense of the revisions to Planning Policy Statement Six – Planning for Town Centres.

The Government, under pressure to release revised retail planning guidance following the recommendations of the Competition Commission, rushed out draft revisions to PPS6 immediately prior to the summer recess in July. Although it was eagerly awaited by the industry, it failed to deal with the key matters arising from the recommendations. In particular, it did not address the introduction of a ‘competition test’, mainly due to an appeal against its introduction by one of the major supermarkets.

But it was worse than that. The guidance proposed to replace the ‘need’ test with an ‘impact’ test, covering matters such as the effects of proposals on emerging developments in the town centre and on existing food retailers. Having proposed a new test, you would have thought the guidance would set out what form it would take and how it was supposed to be interpreted. Unfortunately, neither occurred and guidance, we are promised, will be published “in due course”. This would be bad enough were it not exactly the same situation that occurred at the time of the publication of the current PPS6 in March 2005, when we were promised guidance on how to undertake the need test – guidance that has never seen the light of day.

Rushing out planning policy without such crucial guidance only adds to the sense of frustration and confusion for many practitioners. The competition test was supposed to have been the centrepiece of emerging retail planning guidance, but it now runs the risk of going the same way as the need test – introduced and then abolished, all before the guidance on how to actually undertake it ever gets published.

Steve Wilson is a planning director at consultants White Young Green