Retailers have welcomed the government’s long-awaited national planning policy, which stresses the importance of town centres over out-of-town development.

Under the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), local planning authorities should apply a sequential test to planning applications, with preference given to town centre locations. Local plans should also promote a “diverse retail offer” in town centres, and refuse out of town developments without access to the town centre.

Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) public affairs director, Shane Brennan, said the policy had been much improved on the draft version. “The language has been strengthened to put more emphasis on town centre first policy, making it harder for developers to bypass. It also brings in diversity when it wasn’t there before.”

Other changes widely welcomed include the definition of sustainable development. The NPPF has dropped the statement that “decision-takers at every level should assume that the default answer to development proposals is ‘yes’”.

Brennan urged the government to enforce the policy and called on retailers to get involved in local plans to ensure the principles of the document are realised.

“The challenge now is for ministers to be proactive in ensuring that the development decisions that are made at local level are consistent with these new rules,” he said.