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PPS4: Minister announces new town centre development guidance

Housing and planning minister John Healey has announced an overhaul of the planning system to prioritise town centre shops over out-of-town developments

The revamped system will give town hall planners ‘the tools they need to boost business growth and provide new safeguards for town centres and local markets’, said Healey, who revealed the new guidance on a visit to Doncaster on 30 December.

Planning Policy Statement 4 combines town centre and economic development, in which local markets and small shops will be supported. The guidance is contained in a document of just 32 pages, rather than the previous 137.

The revised guidelines keep the ‘sequential test’ for town planners, which requires the most central town centre sites to be developed first for shops, leisure and offices rather than out-of-town sites that lure shoppers away from the high street.

A tougher ‘impact test’ is also being introduced, replacing the ‘needs test’, which aims to give councils better controls over big developments that put small shops and town centres at risk.

Using this test, development that could harm town centres will be assessed against key factors including climate change, impact on the high street, consumer choice, consumer spending and jobs, Mr Healey said.

Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Caroline Spelman said the move would damage the high streets it intended to save. ‘This is a New Year snub for town centres. Labour Ministers are tying the hands of local councils and making it more difficult to control unwanted out-of-town retail development.

‘This will undermine the vitality of local high streets, and the only beneficiaries will be sprawling supermarkets outside towns. This is both environmentally damaging and a slap in the face of small shops and high street firms.’

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