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Centrist politics

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The new draft Planning Policy Statement on town centres gives housing and offices equal emphasis with retail

The flow of new-style PPSs (Planning Policy Statements) reached an important stage last month with the publication of draft PPS1 'Creating Sustainable Communities' for consultation (AJ 26.02.04). Meanwhile, the draft PPS6 'Planning for Town Centres', 1which emerged last December, has gone largely unremarked upon. Its author at the ODPM, Michael Bach, led a discussion on it at the London Planning & Development Forum 2and demonstrated the new thinking about government planning guidance it represents. In summary, PPS6: lpromotes culture change to a positive, proactive approach to planning at regional and local levels; lis a major change in style, concentrating on planning for growth and growing centres; lfeatures planning to accommodate large-format retail; ltackles social exclusion, deprivation and lack of choice (but does it say enough about local centres? ); lis a major challenge for all stakeholders, and more ambitious than the original guidance document, PPG6.

PPG6 has had a dramatic impact in reversing the trend towards out-oftown shopping, although 'just like a supertanker', said Bach, there has been a time lag in turnaround as pre-PPG6 permissions came through the pipeline. The big supermarket operators are now competing for market share and penetration by opening smaller, car-park-free supermarkets in town centres. Even though the out-of-town retail shed is not banned under PPG6, it has become the exception rather than the rule, thanks to the 'sequential test' introduced in PPG6. So what is different in the draft PPS6?

Bach says the PPG6 policy went straight into the hands of the development control system and leveraged its influence through appeals. Authorities have generally failed to use it to plan for retail development or regeneration. This is reflected in the changed emphasis of the new statement (PPS6), in which the key idea conveyed is 'Town centres first!' Note that retail is no longer in the title:

town centre activities and development now explicitly include offices and other employment use, leisure and retail and, by cross-reference to PPG3, housing too.

Under the new PPS, planners will be called to inject a vision into towncentre planning. Bach sets out the following approaches:

Regional spatial strategy lSet out vision for a balanced network of centres;

lassess the overall need for retail, leisure, etc for plan period and phases;

ldecide where to set development for growth and regeneration;

lnew out-of-town regional/subregional shopping centres or expansion are not likely to be needed.

Local development plan lSet out vision and make strategic choices;

llink to regional strategy;

lassess need for new floorspace;

lidentify centres, roles and catchments;

lidentify capacity, gaps and need for sites;

lidentify additional sites, including edge-of-centre sites, for growth and large formats.

Planning for growth and growing town centres lUse growth to achieve strategic aims;

limprove city centres;

lregenerate middle-sized centres/district centres;

lplug gaps at the local level, and build up local centres. Increase size of the town centre to accommodate growth of all town centre uses, including larger format.

As you can see, PPS6 goes hand-in-hand with the greenfield/ brownfield approach to housing, and having bashed the development sector into submission and compliance, it now seeks visionary leadership from the planning side. To this end Bach calls for a culture change. He wants new resources and better skills (as well as resort to the old tool of CPOs); the need to tackle social inclusion by getting the market to provide development for deprived communities rather than just in deprived areas; and for developers to get engaged early in plan-making, responding to the changed agenda for communities. For architects working with developers or retailers, leisure or hotel operators, this is the message to take back to them.

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