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Calls for planning reform to reinvigorate high streets

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With the consultation period for the new National Planning Policy Framework coming to an end, the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has called on government ministers to use any new legislation to help the British high street.

The government has already written a draft version of the policy which looks to reduce red-tape when it comes to construction in a bid to boost growth, but ACS CEO James Lowman is arguing that more needs to be done to promote town centre investment rather than out-of-town construction.

In a submission made public today, Lowman has told ministers that many UK high streets are at “crisis point” and that without government intervention they have “no prospect of the investment they desperately need.”

Pressure has already been building for the government over the plans, with the influential National Trust organisation highly critical of proposals to change the wording of planning restrictions which some think will make it easier to build on green belt land.

Lowman commented: “We welcome the simplicity and clarity and the new National Planning Policy Framework, but it needs improvement. The changes we have suggested will ensure policy is robust and ensures Councils and communities have the power to drive new retail investment to the centres where it will be most effective and sustainable.

“Our recommendations focus on ensuring that policy is crystal clear that town centre development is sustainable development and the new out of town development should only be considered in exceptional circumstances.

“We have also suggested changes that make the tests for new retail developments more robust, so communities and not developers are in charge of the decisions made in their area.”

With the consultation period due to close next week, new research has been published that suggests that town centres are to become even less important to retail over the next decade.

Multichannel and ecommerce consultants Javelin Group have just produced a piece of research claiming there will be 31 per cent fewer town centre stores by 2020.

Rising online buying will mean bricks and mortar will make up just 66 per cent of all sales in the main non-food sectors of clothing, electricals, furniture and health & beauty, down from 86 per cent today.

Prime retail locations such as large city centres and out-of-town shopping centres will continue to strengthen but a 21 per cent fall in overall retail space will hit secondary centres hardest, according to the report.

TV celebrity and business woman Mary Portas is also being commissioned by the coalition government to produce a report on how to help struggling town centre locations, with her findings expected to be made public later this month.

Published on Thursday 13 October by Editorial Assistant

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