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NPPF consultation proposals – what could they mean for town centres?

NPPF consultation proposals – what could they mean for town centres?

Peter Wilks 06 Mar 2018
The consultation proposals on the vitality of town centres would not change the thrust of the NPPF, but there are some important modifications. These include logical points of clarification that address areas of dispute that have arisen in recent years.
 
It is widely accepted that very long term projections have inherent uncertainties. In response to these uncertainties, local authorities will no longer be required to allocate sites to meet the need for town centre uses over the full plan period. The need for new town centre uses must still be accommodated over a minimum ten year period, which reflects the complexities in bringing forward town centre development sites. In line with the Government’s economic growth agenda, a positive approach to meeting community needs is still required. This is a sensible proposal.    
 
The consultation proposals were expected to address inconsistencies in the application of the sequential test in recent appeal and legal decisions. There is no mention of the need to disaggregate planning application proposals for out-of-centre retail or leisure development onto a number of separate town centre or edge of centre sites, which is consistent with recent Secretary of State decisions and how the Courts have clarified the meaning of the sequential test. The Government appears to reject requests in some quarters to introduce disaggregation into the sequential approach, and this questions the consistency of some recent appeal decisions.
 
The most pertinent suggested change (paragraph 87 –change underlined) is “main town centre uses should be located in town centres, then edge of centre locations; and only if suitable sites are not available (or expected to become available within a reasonable period) should out of centre sites be considered”.  The explanatory document indicates that the reason for this suggested change is to avoid prejudicing more central sites that are in the pipeline but not available straight away. A “reasonable period” is still open to debate, but logically this period should relate to the likely timetable for delivery of the application proposal.   
 
The third modification removes the need to assess the impact of out of centre office proposals on town centres. The Government, correctly, points out that the sequential approach adequately controls inappropriate office proposals.
 
The proposed changes to the effective use of land will also have implications for town centres, by promoting higher density development, including and development of under-utilised land and buildings. The potential development of service yards and car parks is another sensible proposal but it may create challenges, recognising there is a fine balance between providing new facilities and maintaining high levels of accessibility, to enable the town centre to compete effectively.
 
Town centre policy has withstood the test of time and hasn’t changed significantly.  The proposals are silent in a number of areas, e.g. disaggregation, which is equally as informative as the proposed changes.  
 
Lichfields will publish further analysis of the consultation on the revised NPPF and its implications. Click here to subscribe for updates.