The Conservative Party has pledged to reinstate the 'need test' in planning applications for retail developments and tighten up restrictions on out-of-town expansion by the multiples.

The test was abolished by the government in December as part of its Planning Policy Statement Four, a decision criticised for making it easier for large developers to force through approval for large format out-of-town and edge-of-centre supermarkets. The test helped to indicate where a proposed store would take away trade from existing town centre stores.

The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) claimed the commitment made in the Tories' Planning Green Paper indicated that politicians were listening to the concerns of local shops. "The removal of the need test was a backward step in retail planning policy," said ACS chief executive James Lowman. "Much of the new planning rules are to be welcomed, but the removal of the need test was a mistake, and we would like to see the Conservatives, if elected, insert the need test into this policy."