John Prescott is under pressure to amend his draft guidance on town centres following reports accusing him of relaxing a ban on out-of-town supermarkets.
The ODPM promised this week to consider tightening up its policy, after a Sunday newspaper seized on a number of ambiguously worded paragraphs in the draft PPS 6.
But the department, along with observers such as CABE and the RTPI, played down the furore sparked by the claims in the Sunday Telegraph.The paper also suggested that chancellor Gordon Brown was behind the policy, under pressure from major retailers.
The AJ's planning correspondent Brian Waters said he remained convinced the government was committed to strengthening town centres. Waters described the contested paragraphs as 'pragmatic' measures that gave 'occasional weight to economic factors'. The draft PPS 6 would allow a limited number of large buildings on edge-of-town sites, where a retailer such as IKEA could prove there was no suitable site in the town centre, he said.
CABE also denied suggestions that the clauses had passed unnoticed. The commission has already responded to the draft document, pointing to the 'confused message' on 'stand-alone, out-oftown developments'.
And the president of the RTPI, Vincent Goodstadt, agreed that there was an 'ambiguity' that could be exploited by developers and must be tidied up.
A spokesman for the ODPM said it would be 'taking into consideration all the issues raised through consultation'. Consultation on the draft PPS 6 has now officially closed, although the AJ understands that representations will still be considered for the next week or two.