Ministers have sought to reassure retailers that town centres will be protected by the latest planning regulations.

Speaking at a seminar last week, planning minister Greg Clark said the recently published National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was “unambiguous about the importance of town centres”.

Referring to the threat of out-of-town supermarket development to local retailers, he said: “Town centres are incredibly important. We’ve revised the NPPF so that there’s a strong policy on that.”

The minister also urged a “localist approach” to the new planning policy, but his ultimate aim was to “get things built”.

Also speaking at the British Property Federation seminar, planning consultant Nick Taylor said the NPPF’s preference for town centre first policy was “writ large”. But he warned that developers and large retailers would always find ways to show local planning authorities that out-of-town development would not harm town centres. “On paper the NPPF had restricted opportunities for out-of-town development, but a room full of developers will find a way round it,” said Taylor, who is partner and head of the London planning team at consultancy Carter Jonas.

Retailers are being urged to get involved in the formation of local plans to prevent the system from being exploited by big developers. Cambridgeshire retailer Jonathan James said: “Retailers need to translate what developers are telling councillors. We need to translate the blue sky fluffy stuff into the cold light of day - for example, are they creating 190 jobs or displacing 190 jobs?”

He said councillors on planning committee know a little about a lot, whereas “we’re people who know a lot about a little, and it’s our job to inform them about our reality.”