Headlines: July 27th, 2009

The Communities and Local Government Parliamentary Select Committee has warned of a threat to town centre development in changing planning guidance in line with the Barker review.

Currently councils must carry out an assessment of the need for development and this forms a key part of the basis against which planning applications for development for town centre uses such as office, retail or leisure are considered. The developer must demonstrate that there is a need for further development in a particular area which is not being met by existing facilities. The ‘need’ test has been considered by many as a crucial element of the Government’s ‘town centre first’ approach to planning policy, and in particular as a bulwark against excessive or inappropriate out-of-town retail development.

Local shops are an essential part of what makes somewhere a great place to live, with a significance that far outstrips their size. But they are also important as a place where people meet, get to know each other, talk about the issues that matter to them. It’s no coincidence that the Roman Forum was the centre of civic as well as commercial life. At their best, independent butchers, bakers and booksellers can be icons of local pride, giving the high street a verve and flair all of its own, and testifying to their town’s unique economic and social history.

The Committee is also sceptical about the introduction of the impact assessment framework which is intended to replace the needs test. They are concerned about the skills and resources available to local planning authorities to put the framework into action.