The government’s long-awaited policy on national planning has been described as a “watershed moment” for local shops, with retailers welcoming the commitment to town centres over out-of-town development.

The new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), published this week for consultation, is a “good day for local shops”, according to Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) chief executive James Lowman. However, he warned that the policy was open to interpretation by large retailers. The NPPF consultation coincided with the launch of Labour’s campaign to save the UK’s high street.
The NPPF promotes town centre first policy, advising local planning authorities to favour retail applications to be located in town centres. For out-of-town centres, which should be considered as a last resort, developments will require an impact assessment if over a default floorspace threshold of 2,500 square metres. 

“The best case scenario is that local authorities will devise imaginative, high street-centred plans that promote diversity in retail,” Lowman said. But under a worst case scenario, as the message from government becomes less specific and more open to interpretation, “sophisticated developers look for and find loopholes for development that harms town centres,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Labour’s four-point plan to save Britain’s high streets includes a retail diversity planning clause and a ‘competition test’ in the planning system, which would ensure a level playing field between small and large shops.

The political tussle to claim the high street initiative comes at a time when vacancy rates have risen to 14.5% - equating to around one in six shops standing empty.