With revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework pending I was mulling over what the retail industry and more broadly, the health of our towns and cities, needs to see in this latest iteration of Planning guidance. The current version of the Policy framework, applied across England, has had a significant impact since its introduction in 2012, the presumption in favour of sustainable development and the overall reduced scale of national governance incorporated within it, in a bid for ‘Localism’, being two areas of particular note. But from a retail and urban centre perspective its drafting has changed very little and had few successes.
Despite a ‘light touch’ approach, the current framework more often than not drives Local Authorities to adopt a defensive stance of ‘protection’ around retail locations, consistently imposing low impact thresholds and maintenance of the status quo, rather than seeking change to answer current difficulties.
Innovation is not encouraged and therefore, in-depth analysis of how locations may need to change proactively for the future is lacking. Is this not something the new NPPF might be able to facilitate and encourage?
The emerging Smart Cities agenda is about harvesting and interpreting data to better inform our approaches and activity in town and city centres at all levels. Local Authorities don’t have spare resource or perhaps the skills to take this data and drive its use, but plenty of us in the consultancy arena do. With a framework encouraging more intelligent decision making that sets qualitative ambitions and encourages places to plan for local centres for their likely future, perhaps we could foster a more collaborative approach to understanding the shape of these locations in 10 years-time?
Plenty of us in the industry can help Local Authorities with understanding how populations are evolving, how surrounding centres are changing, how online retailing is impacting activity, etc. Add to this the extensive understanding Local Authorities have of their locality – it’s history, strengths, weaknesses, failed attempts and successes, support network and resistors – and collaboratively we can surely assist in making proactive, innovative decisions.
After all, as a profession we are supposed to be meeting needs of all our communities in full. I wait with bated breath, to see what NPPF Mark II brings!
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NPPF, Smart Cities, Planning, Retail