Planning matters

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Mixed-use town centre regeneration proposals – 5 key actions to help lead to  positive outcomes for all
Over the past two years, a significant proportion of my time in planning consultancy has been spent working on major, mixed-use town centre regeneration proposals.  This has involved projects for retail, commercial leisure, food and beverage uses, and purpose-built student accommodation in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire and in Kirkby, Merseyside.  The two town centres are very different, with Newcastle-under-Lyme being a traditional market town and Kirkby being relatively new, having been purpose-built in the 1960s.  Because of this project work, it has been possible to identify 5 key actions by landowners and developers that could help lead to more positive outcomes for all stakeholders.   Proposed purpose-built student accommodation and retail development in Newcastle-under-Lyme.  Image credit: Stride Treglown  Proposed retail and leisure development in Kirkby.Image credit: Saunders Take full account of site characteristics and contextEnsure that the proposal responds to the features of the site and its context, such as its size, topography, vegetation, natural features, access, conservation / heritage assets, the uses of neighbouring buildings, and existing on-site buildings.  Designing a proposal to fully take account of the existing features of the site and its context will go a long way towards ensuring a positive outcome is achieved.  Include strong links and connectionsMake sure that the proposal includes strong physical and visual links to the wider town centre, even if the application site is in an existing Primary Shopping Area.  Strong links will: encourage linked trips; provide spin-off benefits to the wider town centre / existing businesses; maintain / improve the legibility of the town centre; and provide a pedestrian-friendly environment.  Get to know the key issues for councillorsGet to know likely key issues for councillors, by analysing recent decisions on similar proposals at Planning Committee and those which were taken to appeal.  In Newcastle-under-Lyme town centre, one of the key issues for councillors is that developments should not cause on-street parking problems in nearby residential areas.  This issue is addressed through requiring a financial contribution from applicants, which is to be used to fund parking surveys and for the introduction of Resident Parking Zones in the event that it is found that the development is resulting in more on-street parking pressures.  Design the scheme with the likely operators in mindA scheme needs to be designed to meet the requirements of future occupiers, including the up to date needs of modern retailers, and commercial leisure operators.  Important aspects of targeted design include the configuration of floorspace (i.e. proposing the right size of unit), the inclusion of a mezzanine level, providing maximum accessibility for pedestrians and cyclists alongside adequate surface level car parking, the inclusion of space for anchor tenant(s), the provision of trolley bays, orientation of retail floorspace and satisfying any other specific operator requirements.  If a development does not suit retailers’ requirements, they will not sign up to a proposal.  Designing to suit occupiers’ needs to be apparent during the pre-application process, including if and when a scheme is to be considered by a design review panel.  Ensure the local community is engagedEngage the community at an early stage, take on board comments received where possible and ensure that the final proposal benefits the local community, but know that it is impossible to please everybody and make it clear that compromises will need to be made.  It is important that proposals are designed in response to their context, to ensure that a new development is a ‘good neighbour’.  Job creation is a very important benefit, often stressed by local communities in their comments on proposals.  Conclusion Lichfields led negotiations in arriving at a positive recommendation for both proposed developments referenced in this blog. Planning permission for the Kirkby proposal was granted in November 2017. Also in November 2017, the local planning authority in Newcastle-under-Lyme reached a resolution to grant planning permission for the scheme in that town subject to conditions and the completion of a legal agreement. Drafting of the legal agreement continues. Lichfields’ experience and track record of success means it is very well placed to lead on planning for high-profile town centre regeneration schemes.   

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We all knew it but now the evidence is there – our town centres are changing
Much of my career to date has been in town centres and retail planning. I have amassed extensive experience in completing retail evidence base studies for local planning authorities and project managing planning applications for major town centre, mixed-use proposals. As such, I have a keen interest in the future of our town centres. Lichfields was recently commissioned by Harborough District Council to update its retail evidence base. This was an update to a retail study that Lichfields had completed in 2013. This update, alongside the many other retail studies that Lichfields completes year-on-year, provides clear evidence that nationally, the composition of our town centres is changing over time. I have taken this analysis further and considered how our town centres have changed over the past decade, based on data set out in Experian Goad category reports, which cover UK town centres. A number of key trends emerge from this research: Convenience (food retail) There has been a recent increase in the proportion of town centre units occupied by convenience retailers on a national average basis. Between 2005 and 2014, the proportion of convenience units has stayed constant at around 8-9%. However, more recently there has been an increase of 2 percentage points to 11% in 2016.  This general trend is replicated in the proportion of town centre floorspace occupied by convenience retailers, albeit there has been a greater increase in the proportion of convenience floorspace. In fact, between 2005 and 2016, the proportion of convenience floorspace has almost doubled, increasing by 10 percentage points. It is expected that the proportion of convenience floorspace may fall in the future as foodstore operators continue to consolidate their position and focus their requirements on key strategic locations, albeit this may not be reflected in the proportion of convenience units, as these might increase as the focus on quality fresh food leads to more independent convenience shops returning to many areas.  Comparison (non-food retail) On a national average basis, the proportion of town centre units occupied by comparison retailers has reduced. In 2005, the national average proportion of town centre units used by comparison retailers was 47%. This proportion reached a low of 41% in 2012, during the global financial crisis. Whilst there has been a small increase in this proportion as the economy has improved, over the eleven years from 2005 to 2006, the proportion of comparison units has reduced to 43% (a fall of 4%). This change is significant and is mirrored in the proportion of comparison floorspace, with the proportion falling by 4% over this eleven year period.  Based on current and likely future retail and leisure trends, Lichfields considers that this overall trend is unlikely to be reversed, with department stores and high street retailers generally seeking less floorspace, but maintaining or seeking a presence in larger town and city centres.   With this change in mind, Lichfields has looked deeper into changes in the composition of comparison retail units, and there are some that are key. In 2005, ‘clothing & footwear’ accounted for 27% of all comparison goods retail units nationally. By 2016, this figure had fallen to 25%. The traditional sector of ‘booksellers, arts, crafts, stationers’ also fell sharply, by 4% over the same period. Class A3 (restaurants and cafes) and A5 (hot food / take-away) uses The converse to the decline in comparison retail businesses is that the proportion of food and drink uses in town centres has increased nationally. The proportion of food and drink units accounted for 14% of town centre units in 2005. In 2016, this proportion had grown by 2 percentage points to 16%. The general trend for an increase in the proportion of food and beverage uses in town centres has been well-documented and is likely to continue.  Looking into this further, it can also be seen that ‘hairdressers/ beauty parlours’ now account for 26% of all units occupied by service uses in town centres nationally, up from 22% in 2005. Likewise, the proportion of ‘restaurants/ cafes/ takeaways’ has increased over the same period, albeit by a lesser amount. Composition summary Why the changes? This confirms what everyone perceives - that town centres have fewer clothing and book retailers and more leisure and service- orientated uses such as restaurants and health and beauty parlours. There are many reasons for this trend in the UK, such as: People choosing to spend more on eating out and other ‘experiences’ rather than on traditional goods; The continuing increase in online shopping which affects clothing and book retailers in particular. According to Experian, in 2016 the proportion of sales in special forms of trading (i.e. non-store retail activity such as mail order sales, some internet sales and so on) as a proportion of comparison sales was 13% and this is projected to rise to 17% by 2035; Although there has been a recent resurgence in book sales, overall, the popularity of electronic books (or ebooks) has led to less demand for town centre floorspace for booksellers, whilst many booksellers with a physical presence in town centres have sub-let part of their floorspace to cafes and coffee shops, further reducing the amount of town centre floorspace occupied by booksellers. The concentration of national multiple clothing & footwear retailers in larger town centres, rather than seeking a presence in all town centres. The general trend is for clothing & footwear retailers to occupy larger units, however, the amount of floorspace occupied by clothing & footwear retailers overall in town centres is down; The pre-recession rise in disposable income and the ongoing popularity of eating out; and Vacant floorspace being filled by lower value uses such as takeaways, charity shops and pay day loan shops. Why Choose Lichfields? Lichfields is at the forefront of advising on town centre and retail development. We are town centre and retail experts and act for numerous clients with an interest in retail, leisure and town centre development, including developers, investors, operators and councils. We understand the changing town centre environment and the increase in popularity of leisure uses within town centres. Lichfields has a track record in assisting in the delivery of town centre re-developments and regeneration. We are keen to assist both new and existing clients further. To discuss any town centre planning-related requirements, please contact us. Image credit: Joe Okpako

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