Out of Town Deserves Better

Posted by Mark on 12th Jan 2013

 Sir,

Ellandi and other investors have lobbied Eric Pickles to say the “town centre first” policy is being sacrificed for growth and the biggest risk to town centre investment is uncontrolled out-of-town development. Accessible Retail, which represents retail parks and warehouses, believes these views ignore the economic importance of our sector and promote a retail-dominant role for town centres that is no longer sustainable. Our sector comprises 30% of retail spend and has an investment grade property value of £43.8bn — higher than shopping malls (£41.8bn) and high street shops (£33.7bn), CBRE research shows. It is the most competitive format, provides more efficient and lower-cost trading space than town centres and is the only part of retailing in which significant growth is taking place or is planned within the next five to 10 years. Accessible Retail accepts the town centre first policy, but believes it should not be used to prevent retailers moving to complementary parks. The assumption that out-of-town retailing is the cause of town centre decline is not substantiated, GVA reports. It can have an adverse impact, but can also benefit towns by removing intrusive sheds and providing space where historic fabric would be at risk or there is no room for expansion. The key cause is failure to improve the offer in response to competition from other town centres or new shopping malls. Local planning authorities need to understand that retail is undergoing permanent structural change. In 1971, 200 centres took 50% of trade — now 83 take 50%. Verdict research shows 25,000 high street and town centre shops closed between 2000 and 2009 — starting well before the recession. To survive, retailers must move out of town, where consumer demand for more convenient and competitively priced outlets can be met. There is a shift from secondary to primary centres and from small to larger stores. The planning system cannot buck this trend. Retailers that have been denied the opportunity to move out of town are indicating they will not remain in unviable high streets. The remedy for town centre decline lies in improvement and diversification, rather than a blanket policy against out-of-town developments.

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