An influential group of MPs have called for the need test to remain as part of the retail planning process.

The government intends to introduce a new impact test for planning, but the Communities and Local Government Committee, which is made up of MPs across various parties, deemed the removal of the need test for out-of-town retail development is an “unacceptable risk” to town centres.

In its report, Need and Impact: Planning for Town Centres, the Committee said that it was unconvinced that the need test, which is used by planning authorities to decide whether there is sufficient need for an out-of-town retail development, is having undesirable effects and claimed it was an essential part of planning policy.

At the launch of the report, Committee chair Dr Phyllis Starkey said that the removal of the need test potentially threatens town centres and that, even though local authorities are in the best position to consider the character of an area and the facilities it requires, the test is one of the tools required to do that job.

Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) chief executive James Lowman welcomed the findings. He said: “MPs are right to be ‘unconvinced’ by the case for the removal of the need test and we agree that it should be retained.

“A need test is a sensible way to robustly defend against out-of-town retail developments that are too big, and to protect the vitality of large and small towns throughout the country.”

The Committee also highlighted the difficulty facing under-resourced local authorities to implement town-centre first planning policies and called upon the government to make the necessary resources available to them.

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