Architects and planners have thrown their weight behind a committee of mps which last week warned that a government U-turn on planning restrictions on out-of-town supermarkets would spell disaster for the vitality of town centres.
The architect of more than 20 Tesco stores, Michael Aukett Architects, and the new Greenwich Sainsbury's designer, Chetwood Associates, have been joined by the Council for the Protection of Rural England (cpre) in calling for the government to resist calls to loosen planning rules.
A Commons committee on environment, transport and the regions said that competition officials at the dti are putting pressure on John Prescott's department to reverse its ban on most new out-of-town superstores in order to restore competition to the out-of-town sector.
The mps are also afraid that Asda may pressurise the government to relax planning rules so it can follow the design template of its new owner, us giant Wal-Mart. The average Wal-Mart store is 3000m2 while the average Asda store is 1260m2.
'The government shouldn't lose heart. I hope it doesn't backtrack because I support the policy and I think architects can deal with the challenge of town centre and edge of town developments,' said Michael Aukett of Michael Aukett Associates.
'Unless there's another coherent way of addressing the transport crisis which is facing this country then the planning restrictions have to be commended and supported,' said regional director at Chetwood Associates, Paul Hinkin.
The committee also called for the government and local authorities to improve the design standard of town-centre supermarkets. It backed the conclusions of the government's Urban Task Force on town-centre supermarkets which said: 'we have suffered from monotony of design that has much to do with corporate branding and little to do with respect for local urban form.'
The cpre said that the committee report presented a strong case against loosening planning policy. 'There seems to be room to tighten planning policy rather than loosen it. Architects should be encouraged by the strength of evidence backing more town-centre development in this report because this requires their design skills more than out of town development,' said the head of planning, Neil Sinden. Planning minister Nick Raynsford appeared to hold firm against the threat from the competition authorities in his evidence to the committee: 'I have made it quite clear that our overarching policy has to be support and encouragement for existing town centres.'