Dominic Browne 29 October 2012

Support grows for shopping centre planning restrictions

Calls to impose severe planning restrictions on out-of-town retail developments have intensified following weeks of mass closures of high street shops.

First suggested by Mary Portas, the Government’s retail Tsar, in her report on the future of the British high street, the radical proposal has now been backed by Action for Market Towns (AMT), a charity supporting smaller towns that works with local authorities.

The news follows a brutal year of bloodletting on the high street. Last week, high street favourite Argos said it would close at least 75 stores over the next five years and last month’s collapse of JJB Sports saw only a few of its stores rescued by rival Sports Direct.

Figures from the Local Data Company show that retail chains shut an average of 20 stores a day in the first half of this year, with retailers Clinton Cards, Blacks Leisure and Game Group all calling in the administrators, resulting in hundreds of stores being closed.

Chief executive of AMT, Chris Wade, described Portas’ suggestion as ‘bold’ but said AMT would like to see it implemented.

He added that AMT ‘would like to see applications [for out of town shopping centres and retail parks] in the next six months being very closely monitored.’

The Government has agreed to implement many of Mary Portas’ 28 recommendations however it stuck to the ‘town centre first’ policy in the recent National Planning Policy Framework. This policy states retailers should be able to consider edge-of-town or out-of-town locations only if town centre options are not available.

However the shopping centre industry has expressed concern that the town centre first policy is really being carried out on the ground.

Director of policy for the British Council of Shopping Centres, Ed Cook, said: ‘There is a big difference between national policy and what is happening locally. There have been some decisions recently that fly in the face of town centres in my opinion.’

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