National Planning Policy Framework

2. Ensuring the vitality of town centres

Paragraphs 23 to 27

23. Planning policies should be positive, promote competitive town centre environments and set out policies for the management and growth of centres over the plan period. In drawing up Local Plans, local planning authorities should:

  • recognise town centres as the heart of their communities and pursue policies to support their viability and vitality
  • define a network and hierarchy of centres that is resilient to anticipated future economic changes
  • define the extent of town centres and primary shopping areas, based on a clear definition of primary and secondary frontages in designated centres, and set policies that make clear which uses will be permitted in such locations
  • promote competitive town centres that provide customer choice and a diverse retail offer and which reflect the individuality of town centres
  • retain and enhance existing markets and, where appropriate, re-introduce or create new ones, ensuring that markets remain attractive and competitive
  • allocate a range of suitable sites to meet the scale and type of retail, leisure, commercial, office, tourism, cultural, community and residential development needed in town centres. It is important that needs for retail, leisure, office and other main town centre uses are met in full and are not compromised by limited site availability. Local planning authorities should therefore undertake an assessment of the need to expand town centres to ensure a sufficient supply of suitable sites
  • allocate appropriate edge of centre sites for main town centre uses that are well connected to the town centre where suitable and viable town centre sites are not available. If sufficient edge of centre sites cannot be identified, set policies for meeting the identified needs in other accessible locations that are well connected to the town centre
  • set policies for the consideration of proposals for main town centre uses which cannot be accommodated in or adjacent to town centres
  • recognise that residential development can play an important role in ensuring the vitality of centres and set out policies to encourage residential development on appropriate sites
  • where town centres are in decline, local planning authorities should plan positively for their future to encourage economic activity.

24. Local planning authorities should apply a sequential test to planning applications for main town centre uses that are not in an existing centre and are not in accordance with an up-to-date Local Plan. They should require applications for main town centre uses to be located in town centres, then in edge of centre locations and only if suitable sites are not available should out of centre sites be considered. When considering edge of centre and out of centre proposals, preference should be given to accessible sites that are well connected to the town centre. Applicants and local planning authorities should demonstrate flexibility on issues such as format and scale.

25. This sequential approach should not be applied to applications for small scale rural offices or other small scale rural development.

26. When assessing applications for retail, leisure and office development outside of town centres, which are not in accordance with an up-to-date Local Plan, local planning authorities should require an impact assessment if the development is over a proportionate, locally set floorspace threshold (if there is no locally set threshold, the default threshold is 2,500 sq m).This should include assessment of:

  • the impact of the proposal on existing, committed and planned public and private investment in a centre or centres in the catchment area of the proposal
  • the impact of the proposal on town centre vitality and viability, including local consumer choice and trade in the town centre and wider area, up to 5 years from the time the application is made. For major schemes where the full impact will not be realised in 5 years, the impact should also be assessed up to 10 years from the time the application is made

27. Where an application fails to satisfy the sequential test or is likely to have significant adverse impact on one or more of the above factors, it should be refused.