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Government response on out of town retail development undermines 'Town Centre First' policy

13 November 2009

Government response on out of town retail development undermines 'town centre first' policy

The Royal Town Planning Institute has warned that the Government's stance on planning for town centres risks harming small shops and high streets at a time of economic difficulty.  The RTPI was responding to the Government's rejection of the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Select Committee recommendation to retain the 'needs test', which permits the building of major shopping schemes only if an area's population is deemed to have insufficient retail space. 

The Government's position is at odds with its own stated 'town centre first' policy and may accentuate the decline of the high street by encouraging out-of-town development, at a time when according to the British Retail Consortium around 12% of town centre shops are currently empty – rising to 40% in some English towns.

Kelvin MacDonald, Policy Adviser at the Royal Town Planning Institute said:

\"The needs test has a long history of successfully protecting our town centres and we are extremely disappointed that the Government has rejected the Select Committee's recommendations to keep it. These proposals risk accentuating the decline of our town centres at a time when local businesses are under huge pressure – with around 12% of shops already empty.

The Government's position also flies in the face of its own policies on climate change as it could well encourage the unnecessary use of cars for shopping as out-of-town developments replace local shops.

It is wrong to believe that such a move will do anything other than reinforce current market failings and increase the need for people to drive to out-of-town shops and other facilities, rather than encouraging the revitalisation of our town centres.\"

CLG Select Committee report on the needs test - includes a transcript of the oral evidence that RTPI gave to the Select Ctte enquiry

Government response to the needs test report from CLG Select Committee