David Rees: Editor's comment

All posts from: May 2013

Planning powers

Posted by: David Rees Tue, 7 May 2013

Are you part of a plan? I ask because in most towns and cities that I visit I see very little evidence of planning at all.

Planned retail does exist, of course, but it tends to be in shopping centres, destination venues and travel hubs rather than in the high street. But it’s the high street where it is needed most.

Many people are speaking up for high streets these days (former Tesco chief Sir Terry Leahy, who called them ‘medieval’, is an obvious exception), but there is very little co-ordinated action to actually help improve them.

The planning system, if properly used, has the potential to reverse decline by approving those developments that would boost key parts of town centres, and reject those that would drag footfall away. The key word, however, is if.

Despite repeated reassurances from governments about ‘town centre first’ being the paramount, new research from Convenience Store shows that existing powers for intervention where controversial new out-of-town developments are proposed have hardly been used.

Mary Portas’ review of the high street recommended that all out-of-town developments should be subject to government approval, taking the final decision out of local planners’ hands. While this didn’t sit well with government’s stated localism agenda, can local planners be trusted to deliver consistent policies focused on the high street and ensuring local people have a choice about where to shop?

Planning should be just that, connected to a plan. Not a free for all, but a clear, transparent process with rules, objectives and measured outcomes. We need councillors to have a vision for the high street, not just pound signs in their eyes when supermarkets knock. And the vision, and the will, to do this needs to come from the top.

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