Case for Out of Town is Out of Proportion

Posted by Mark on 25th Jan 2013

Sir,

 Will McKee wrote, on behalf of Accessible Retail, to suggest that the letter written by Ellandi and others to Eric Pickles in December, called for a “blanket ban” on out-of-town retail development (feedback, 11.01.13).

This was absolutely not the case.

All we asked of the secretary of state was to ensure local authorities implement existing planning policy and, where appropriate, use the powers afforded to him to call in any unsustainable developments so that they could be properly scrutinised.

Nobody doubts the important role of out-of-town shopping nor, indeed, the attractions that many — even traditional high street retailers — see in this format. However, to suggest that “policy cannot buck this trend” is, at best, naive. It is absolutely the role of government to deliver sustainable economic growth for the benefit of the majority, rather than a purely market-driven solution for the benefit of a handful of landlord/developers and large-format retailers.

The events of the last five years should be a lesson to us all on the danger of light-touch regulation, allied to a belief that the market is always right.

Furthermore, as an organisation, one must question the degree to which Accessible Retail supports the “town centre first” policy when it has consistently lobbied against policy guidance that reinforces it, and the National Planning Policy Framework.

This is further borne out in McKee’s astonishing statement that “to survive, retailers must move out of town”. This is hardly indicative of an organisation that genuinely believes in a balance of appropriate uses across both locations.

Finally, based on his figures, the fact that the out-of-town sector is already larger than either the shopping centre market or the combined value of the UK’s high streets, hardly makes a case for further massive expansion of this type of shopping.

Retailing in the UK is undergoing massive structural change, including, for example, the scaling back of the once seemingly insatiable appetite for large-format superstores. Decisions that are made now will affect communities and business for a generation and it is only proper that large, out-of-town developments are exposed to proper scrutiny.

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