Chief executive James Lowman on the fight to keep town planning rules fair and equal for all

It's hard to believe that in today's Big Four-dominated grocery market what local communities need are rules to make it easier to build out-of-town supermarkets. However, this summer we have to argue against proposals to do exactly this.
The government is looking at changing the rules on building large retail developments out of town. Ministers have stated that any changes will not weaken their 'town centre first' policy, but we are yet to be convinced.
The debate rages over what is called the 'need' test, which is a vital assessment of how a local retail market will be affected by new retail development. Our view is if it ain't broke, don't fix it and we will argue strongly in defence of a strong national retail planning policy. We believe that the need test has provided a consistent, robust and transparent mechanism to ensure that the implications of planning are fully assessed before development is allowed.
Where there is no 'need' test, for example in Scotland, there is evidence of an increase in out-of-town developments which harm the town centre. The facts show that in Scotland only 22% of development is in town centres, compared with 35% in England.
It is important to point out this isn't about protecting one type of retailer over another, it's about supporting town centres. We aren't saying that no new supermarkets should be built but sometimes, for local communities, the right answer is to say no.
If the government is determined to remove the test then they will have to convince us that what replaces it will be stronger. Any replacement must have 'town centre first' as its explicit aim, must view local diversity as critical, and give local authorities the resources and expertise to implement policy properly. For now, we must hold the government accountable to its desire for a robust town centre first policy.
If you would like further information on this issue, or you would like to know how to lobby your MP, contact James Green on 01252 515001.

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