The biggest retail and leisure permissions, November 2019 - May 2020

Planning's guide to the major retail and leisure consents given between 16 November 2019 and 31 May 2020.

Visualisation of the Therme Manchester leisure development - image: Therme Group
Visualisation of the Therme Manchester leisure development - image: Therme Group

The number of big retail and leisure permissions per week fell from one pre-lockdown to 0.5 post-lockdown. 

A clear theme emerging from the retail and leisure category is that major town centre retail-led redevelopment schemes are conspicuous by their absence from the list. Jay Mehta, director at law firm Howes Percival, says this reflects the fact that the retail sector has "struggled for many years". The Covid-19 pandemic, he says, "may unfortunately be the final straw that breaks many retailers, while others are refocusing their business to more of an online presence".

Nick Taylor, head of planning at consultancy Carter Jonas, agrees. "We have been talking for a while about the health and the future of our town centres, and we are all seeing the same thing," he says. "Nobody is putting town centre redevelopment schemes forward which provide lots more retail because of the view that many town centres are contracting."

Practitioners agree that the retooling of town centres will be a predominant theme over the coming months and years, particularly in the context of the pandemic and the government's reforms to the use classes order. Roy Pinnock, partner at law firm Dentons, argues that the current economic problems may act as a spur to some redevelopment schemes, if the deflated value of stock in town centres spurs landlords to bring forward redevelopment.

For the leisure sector, Mehta argues that there is "far more optimism". "We are continuing to see a steady stream of new planning applications for leisure-led schemes, which indicates there will continue to be a demand," he says.

This is borne out in the Big Permissions list, with the largest retail and leisure schemes granted consent being mainly focused on leisure uses, rather than being retail-led.

The largest permission in this category was the SnOasis ski centre and holiday resort in Suffolk, which encompasses over 103,000 square metres of leisure floorspace.

The project is a holiday resort scheme on a site in Great Blakenham near Stowmarket, incorporating a ski slope, ice rinks and a bobsleigh run. The scheme has a long planning history, but consent was granted in March for the reserved matters pursuant to the outline permission already granted.

Law firm Sharpe Pritchard worked on the SnOasis planning consent for transport and highways authority Suffolk County Council. The firm's partner, Bernadette Hillman, reports that Mid Suffolk District Council used emergency delegated powers to issue the consent, with the planning committee having been unable to meet due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Other notable schemes in the retail and leisure category were the Therme wellbeing resort in Trafford, Greater Manchester, on the site of the EventCity exhibition centre. Also coming through was permission for a proposed new arena for Bristol on the site of the former Brabazon air hangar buildings in Filton.

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