Review urges expansion of Welsh town centre first policy

The 'town centre first' planning policy in Wales should be expanded to cover other uses including business, leisure and public assembly, a report commissioned by the Welsh government has recommended.

Wales: review into town centre planning policy published
Wales: review into town centre planning policy published

The report by Genecon for the Welsh government said changes occurring in the retail sector are having "profound implications" for the future of town centres across Wales.

It said the challenge for the planning system is to keep pace with the changes, and to contribute to efficient and effective "change management" in retailing and town centres.

"What is clear is that town centres need to adapt – the economic, commercial and technological shifts in the retail sector mean that the role of traditional high streets and the balance between retail and non-retail activities will not return to the patters of the past," it said.

The report said planning policy for town centres needs to promote clear links to wider economic objectives, supporting employment growth and the role of centres as a focus for wide-ranging business services and enterprise opportunities that generate footfall and reinforce sustainable retail functions.

It said there are a number of areas where revisions and refinements to the existing national planning policy framework should be given full consideration.

It said footfall is a "critical driver" of town centre viability and vitality, adding that the application of the "town centre first" principle should extend to other uses, such as business and leisure which can "support diversity and underpin retail sector prospects".

Other recommendations include:

·         The planning tests of need and sequential location should remain a central tenet of national planning policy for retailing and town centres but the approach should be clear and applied consistently.

·         Supplementary advice should be prepared on how local planning authorities should assess whether the sequential test has been satisfied by applicants for non-centric retail and other developments.

·         Supplementary guidance should be provided in PPW Chapter 10 to encourage more effective use of planning conditions by local planning authorities to control range of goods sold, types of occupiers and the ability to extend trading floor space through, for example, mezzanine floor installations.

·         Consideration should be given to reviewing the Use Classes Order to introduce A4 and A5 uses in line with policy in England.

·         The promotion of Local Development Orders as an option in support of town centre regeneration should be specifically referenced in PPW Chapter 10.

·         Town centres policy should align or form part of wider economic development strategies and "Place Plans".

Town Centres and Retail Dynamics - Towards a Revised Retail Planning Policy for Wales is available here.

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