Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by the Association of Convenience Stores (L 25)

Localising Planning – How Can it Help Our High Streets?

Localism Bill – Planning Reform (Chapter 5 & Schedule 9)

As Government prepares a radical change to the way the planning system is organized we must consider carefully how the planned reforms might work in practice in our communities. This briefing sets out the pitfalls that must be avoided to ensure that communities are empowered, and not hijacked by the interests of developers with proposals that would damage the health of town centres.

Local people really care about retail planning policy. Town centres and high streets are the focal points to the communities in which we live, they provide a place where people across age, professional and ethnic groups come together for common every day purposes of shopping, entertainment and work. There is no doubt that retail is the beating heart of these communities.

In this brief ACS calls for:

· the introduction of a new statutory duty to promote sustainable high streets into the Localism Bill; thereby ensuring that the National Planning Framework retains a robust town centre first policy; specifically retains the sequential test and economic impact assessments. (Chapter 3)

· the extension of the statutory duty to consult to require developers to fund external and independent analysis of the impact of their development proposal (cl.102)

Association of Convenience Stores

ACS is the trade association representing the interests of over 33,500 convenience stores operating in city centres as well as rural and suburban areas. Members include familiar names such as Martin McColl, Spar and Costcutter, as well as independent stores operating under their own fascia. Our members operate small grocers, off-licence or petrol forecourt shops with between 500 and 3,000 square feet of selling space.

S tatutory Duty to Promote Sustainable High Streets

In 1996 the Government and planners recognised that building large out-of-town supermarkets and retail parks, with cheaper overheads and free abundant car parking was having a devastating impact on existing town and city centres. That is why the ‘Town Centre First planning policy was brought in, as first PPG6 and most recently, under a Labour Government a PPS4. [1] 15 years later the policy has been successful in regenerating many of our city and major town centres, but still problems remain. At its height the policy achieved a situation where 40% of new development was located in town centres. Since that high point in 2008, disaster has hit with in-town retail investment falling off a cliff and in the past 12 months we have seen 12,000 shops close on our high streets. [2]

Now at a time of recession the pressure is on communities develop sites and create jobs. There has been a major jump in supermarket planning activity, Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda and Morrison accounted for 82% of the retail development that received planning approval in 2010. [3] Many Councils are felling as though they have no other option but to permit supermarket developments, and for many this is at the expense of town centre regeneration. Supermarkets are part of the recovery but they must not be allowed to locate wherever they like - they must still be directed towards town centres.

The statutory duty would:

· ensure that town centre first planning policy will be a permanent and robust element of national planning policy – removing uncertainty and rebuilding fragile investor confidence in our town and city regeneration schemes

· ensure that communities have legal certainty when seeking to prevent harmful out-of-centre development – ending the threat of legal challenge that hangs over planning authorities from powerful developers

· ensure that the advantages of new retail development complement, rather than replace other forms of retailing in neighbourhoods

This clause would be designed to complement the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ and requires a clear definition of sustainability this could be based on the existing definition in Planning Policy Statement 1. [4] It would also help implement the aims of the Sustainable Communities Act.

Statutory Duty to Consult

ACS supports the statutory duty to consult as contained in the draft Bill (clause 102), however the clause must go further to set clear standards for the quality of the consultation undertaken.

It is now common place for developers to undertake detailed pre-development marketing drives seeking to engineer support for their proposal. The public relations and lobbying expertise developed for these purposes is already a multi-million pound industry. Consultation is now just part of the publicity drive for new stores.

Consultation must be made meaningful, be organized according to clear rules of engagement and, above all, be subject to rigorous standards of objectivity. Best practice would see hard-to-reach groups as well as SMEs included in the consultation process.

Above all the Bill should be amended, to provide the necessary resource for securing an independent, objective analysis of the impact of the development proposal and that it be made available to all those taking part in the consultation.

Retail Development Example

Developer A wishes to build an out of town supermarket outside a market town, he commissions research that sets out data suggesting that the town will remain viable if the development is granted.

The data collected is based on highly optimistic predictions about the likely increase in customer spend in the area, the likely claw back from other nearby supermarkets and consumer polling data that is geared towards finding a positive outcome. This data is the only information available to the community through the consultation.

The consultation undertaken includes a website, mail shot and a series of consultation events run by the developer setting out the case for the development. The outcomes and feedback from the events are collected and reported by the developer.

The alternative to this is a requirement for the developer to provide the resource they would employ in this consultation work to the Council to commission an independent analysis based on objective criteria. These would include the current:

· Sequential Assessmentif a new retail development is proposed outside of an existing town centre developers and councils must prove that there is no alternative within, or closer to, the centre than the site proposed.

· Economic Impact Assessment – any out-of-centre retail development must be subject to a detailed assessment of its economic impact, which considers the likely impact on surrounding retail centres

This unbiased assessment would provide a sounder basis for decision making and would ensure the community has access to a balanced analysis of the impact of a development.

January 2011

[1] Planning Policy Statement 4,

[2] The Local Data Company http://www.localdatacompany.com/press-releases/2010/9/9/press-release-north-south-divide-when-it-comes-to-empty-shop.html

[3] Planning Approvals by Value Jan 2010 to Aug 2010 ( The Grocer 8 th September 2010.) Tesco alone accounts for 60% of all applications

[4] Planning Policy Statement 1 – Planning for Sustainable Development http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/planningandbuilding/pdf/planningpolicystatement1.pdf