The reforms to town centre planning policy announced by Communities Secretary Hazel Blears would see the 'need' test for new retail planning applications replaced with an 'impact' test which would enable local authorities to assess social, economic and environmental impacts of proposed developments.
Blears said: "I want to see our town centres and independent shops busy and thriving and I'm absolutely committed to help defend their future. We need a policy which provides the right degree of protection for smaller retailers who are facing very challenging trading conditions and increased competition."
ACS chief executive James Lowman said he was encouraged by the minister's commitment to town centres but added: "We remain wholly unconvinced that the need test has to be removed and are sceptical that the revised policy will offer the same robust and objective criteria for assessing the likely impact of a new development. ACS will be assessing closely whether the proposed new impact test allays concerns."
A spokesman for the Campaign to Protect Rural England said that removing the need test could backfire. "The impact test could shift power from planners who could say 'No' to large supermarkets, to developers who could say 'Why not?'."
Conservative planning spokeswoman Jacqui Lait said: "These changes will ultimately hit small retailers and worsen the problem of 'ghost town Britain'."