High street

Some 76% of new retail space has been granted planning permission outside town centres

In the week George Osborne set out a raft of measures aimed at boosting the UK high street, the planning policy aimed at putting town centres first, introduced last year, has been branded a failure.

A new independent report, commissioned by the Association of Convenience Stores, has found that since the government introduced its National Planning Policy Framework in March 2012, 76% of new retail floor space to be granted planning permission has been located outside town centres. This is despite NPPF having the ‘town centre first’ principle enshrined within it.

The report also found that, in total, 85% of the applications for food retail stores were approved and the majority of these were again for out-of-town sites.

“This report paints a disturbing picture about planning decisions being driven by developers rather than local people, and destroying high streets up and down the country,” said ACS chief executive James Lowman.

“The NPPF is simply not being applied properly, as under-resourced councils fail to get to grips with making coherent local plans and out-of-town developers fill their boots.”

The report also suggests that some of the more controversial applications are not receiving sufficient scrutiny, citing a decline in the number of planning applications that have been called in for review by the Secretary of State. There were 12 applications called in during 2011, six during 2012 and only three so far this year.

Lowman explained that the findings came despite the government consistently defending the effectiveness of the NPPF and the town centre first policy.

Last year, the then-minister for housing and local growth Mark Prisk said: “The new National Planning Policy Framework maintains a strong town centre-first policy and makes clear that local councils should recognise their centres as the heart of their communities and pursue support [for] town centre viability.

“The framework makes clear we want town centres to be competitive and provide customer choice and a diverse retail offer.”

On Thursday, the Chancellor announced a cap of 2% on business rates from April as part of a package of relief measures for the high street. There will be a business rate discount for those taking on empty shops, and retailers can now pay their rates in 12 monthly instalments, rather than four quarterly ones.

“To get the vacant shops that blight too many town centres to open again, I am introducing a new re-occupation relief that will halve the rate for new occupants,” said Osborne.