The government has been accused of a lack of leadership after exclusive research by C-Store reveals ministers have ignored nearly all the requests to intervene in out-of-town retail applications since new planning rules were introduced last year.
Secretary of State Eric Pickles has received requests to intervene in nine out-of-town retail applications, three of which were supermarket proposals, since the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in March 2012, but he has called in the decision on just one.
A total of 25 retail applications were the subject of requests to intervene, documents released under a Freedom of Information request reveal.
Requests for intervention on planning applications can be made by anyone, but are most commonly made by residents.
The three out-of-town supermarket applications are for Morrisons stores outside Swindon, Wiltshire and Acocks Green, Birmingham, and a Tesco development near Maidenhead, Berkshire.
But Pickles has called in just one out-of-town application - for a retail park outside Rushden, Northamptonshire, where neighbouring councils claim the plans would have an adverse impact on their town centres.
The minister has also called in an application for a 55,000sq ft Sainsbury’s superstore in the town of Newport in Shropshire. Government inspectors are still to deliver verdicts on both cases.
Under the NPPF, local authorities should apply a sequential test to planning applications, with preference given to town centres over out-of-town locations.
Association of Convenience Stores public affairs director Shane Brennan said: “The apparent reluctance of ministers to intervene in retail planning applications is a mistake. They may think that by not intervening in many out-of-town retail planning applications they are promoting ‘localism’ but instead they are failing to provide the clear and consistent leadership that councils need.
“Providing a rule book without a referee does not empower councils, it leads instead to confusion, inconsistency and bad decisions.”
The government ignored Mary Portas’ recommendation in her high street review for all out-of-town planning applications to be called in for approval by ministers.
“It is no surprise to me. This government simply pays lip service to the issues and the struggles being faced by businesses on the high street. It is obvious the government is driven by short-term revenue gain from major multiples, instead of supporting local businesses and entrepreneurs trying to put Britain back on its feet.”
Managing director, Symonds Budgens
“It is imperative that the government does everything it can to support high streets and town centres and ensure they remain at the heart of our communities. This is why I will continue to push the government to keep its word and support a strong town centre first policy.”
Shadow planning minister and MP for Durham