Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Town centre reviews

The UK's town centres are currently receiving much needed attention from central government regarding the major challenges currently being faced.

The external advisory group to the Scottish government's National Review of Town Centres project has this month published it's findings, while the UK Government have advised that they will consult “soon” on proposals to relax planning regulations to allow conversion of certain retail spaces into residential use in England.

The announcement from Communities Secretary Eric Pickles was also confirmed in a report reviewing progress since publication of the Portas review of the future of the high street.  Mr Pickles has stated that the "consultation proposes to transform dormant out-of-date offices, empty shops and boarded up buildings into new homes. Bringing back to life our town centres".

The Scottish National Review of Town Centres is an independent report which details key recommendations for re-energising Scotland’s town centres.  Proposals to help breathe new life into town centres include:

• A ‘town centre first’ principle whereby public bodies will consider how they can support town centres before considering development elsewhere.
• Working with housing providers to bring empty town centre properties back into use as affordable housing.
• A town centre focus to review current business rates incentivisation schemes.
• A recommendation that public bodies should consider the impact of proposals to relocate services out of town centres.
• Broadening the appeal of town centres with a mix of leisure, public facilities and homes.
Recommendations in the report reinforce the current draft Scottish Planning Policy document where the proposed 'town centre first' policy, that says that authorities should prioritise certain types of development in town centres rather than their outskirts, has been given more prominence.  The policy is also expanded to cover all developments that encourage greater footfall, including community and cultural facilities, homes and offices.  Currently the test applies only to retail and commercial leisure uses.
The draft SPP also makes it a requirement for local authorities to carry out "town centre health checks", measuring markers such as footfall and shop vacancies every two years. Steven Cooper, who heads property consultancy Bidwells' Scottish planning team, says the health checks are "a good start", but they should be expanded to include an examination of how previous planning decisions made by authorities had impacted on town centre viability.

National Review of Town Centres External Advisory Group Report

Progress since The Portas Review

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