Times, and our High Streets, are changing

Shift in Planning Policy Wales

22 December 2016

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Almost without fail, national and local policies have focused on protecting core shopping streets in town centres for A1 retail uses such as shops, butchers, hairdressers and funeral directors together with strict thresholds for non-A1 uses. But times, and our high streets, are changing. The latest edition of Planning Policy Wales shows a clear shift of emphasis by the Welsh Government, away from retail being the be-all and end-all of town and local centres, and a move towards a wider variety of uses including office, residential, leisure, tourism and community as well as the usual retail functions.

Huw Thomas, Director of Retail at Cooke & Arkwright comments, “There have been significant structural changes to our high streets over the past ten years or so. Beyond the more familiar tensions with out-of-town retail parks and high business rates, societal and technological drivers have seen us reaching for our phones to shop online and more frequently catching up with friends to test out the latest coffee shops and new restaurants. A vibrant, attractive high street that is full of vitality offering a variety of mixed uses remains the epitome of successful and future retail planning policy in Wales.”

Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners, with whom we have worked on a number of projects, has been monitoring changes to the planning policy. Associate Director Helen Ashby-Ridgway comments, “Edition 9 of Planning Policy Wales (PPW) was published in November 2016 alongside Technical Advice Note 4 (TAN4) that should be read alongside PPW. Without even opening the front cover, the title of TAN4 gives away the change in direction. The former publication ‘TAN4: Retailing and Town Centres’ has given way to the latest ‘TAN4: Retail and Commercial Development’. This is as a direct result of centres needing to adapt and transform themselves in order to compete in an increasingly diverse market.”

But do the details reflect the wrapper?

The latest edition of PPW continues to highlight that A1 uses underpin retailing and commercial centres but recognises that it is only one of the factors contributing towards their vibrancy. Edition 8 of PPW already encouraged local planning authorities (LPAs) to allow a diversity of uses in their centres but Edition 9 helpfully lists acceptable uses. These include use class A2 (professional and financial services), use class A3 (food and drink), offices, hotels, use class D1 (educational and other non-residential establishments) and use class D2 (leisure) as well as certain other ‘sui generis’ uses such as laundrettes and theatres.

Through Edition 9, the Welsh Government is now encouraging LPAs to adopt local policies that can deal flexibly with changing retail pressures, ‘particularly where centres are not performing well’. Helen Ashby-Ridgway notes that, “While the changes present a good opportunity for our high streets to innovate they do not spell a carte blanche for operators and landlords. Nevertheless the new national policies are likely to have a positive effect on our most challenged high streets and will allow centres to respond to local markets and local community needs.”

Further changes to retail policies are also set out within PPW and TAN4, and Cooke & Arkwright and Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners would be pleased to discuss the implications of these on your individual projects.