Ministers have told council planning officers to use powers in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to deliver retail investment in town centres.

The government’s intervention comes in a letter to local authorities which calls on councils to enforce town centre first policy.

The letter states: “Ministers wish to restate policy which makes clear that where an application fails to satisfy the sequential test or is likely to have significant adverse impact on the town centre as set out in the Framework, it should be refused.”

Evidence from property consultants CBRE shows that, of the 46 million square metres of grocery retail space in the planning development pipeline, 84% of this is planned for out of town locations, yet only 6% of this is currently under construction.

Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said: “When an out of town planning application is granted, it undermines investment in nearby town centres and that’s why we’ve seen a sharp decline in retail space being developed in town centres since 2013. 

“Many councils have been seduced by the prospect of new developments, but they now look short-sighted, and if they had applied the town centre first policy more strictly the result would have been greater investment in town centres, as opposed to the empty fields once earmarked for new superstores but now abandoned.

“This ministerial intervention is much-needed, and we welcome the government’s clear commitment to a town centre first planning policy.”