This report seeks Members consideration as to whether and how planning policy might intervene to reduce further losses in the retail sector and to consider the wider role of town centres and whether more flexibility is required to enable a wider range of activities.
The report presented to the Committee outlined the need for Members’ to consider the possible intervention of planning policy to help reduce further losses in the retail sector experienced in town centres over recent years and whether flexibility was required to encourage a wider range of activities, including leisure, housing and community uses.
Members’ attention was drawn to the introduction by Central Government of the new E Use Class that encompasses a whole range of town centre uses allowing buildings to move freely between them but also has a significant bearing on current policies that protect them.
Non-Committee Member comments included:
· There is a need to make our town centres cycle friendly and provide more green infrastructure such as bicycle sheds for people who live in flats in town centres;
· The need to encourage ebike hire schemes in our town centres;
· Concerns raised about the viability of town centres due to the growth of second homes as holiday homes which reduces footfall;
· Reference was made to paragraph 2.10.3 – retailers high fixed costs: business rates and rents and paragraph 2.14 – the build back better high streets in which although the Government recognises the impact of business rates does absolutely nothing to redress the balance;
· Suggestion to incorporate the Queen’s Drive Space into the section of ‘promote and encourage element’ on page 73 to encourage more visitors;
· Concerns raised about developers that want to take retail space and turn it into residential space.
Committee Member discussion included:
· The importance of the Urban Capacity Study that looks at increasing the number of homes in our town centres to increase vibrancy and vitality in our town centres. The need to consider how to save shops while still increasing the number of homes;
· The need to look at density from a policy point of view;
· The Strand in Exmouth has a lot of upward development. There are shops and offices that have residential over;
· There is a need to adapt to change and allow town centres to adapt to change; Seeing an increase in leisure use with cafes expanding out onto pavements. In response the Service Lead – Planning Strategy and Development Management advised that Central Government were in the process of making all temporary uses such as outdoor seating areas permanent which would help businesses in the town centre. He also referred to the Class E Use which would also add to that flexibility;
· The importance of prioritising pedestrians and cyclists when looking at development in our high streets and referred to a report by Living Streets;
· Support for Promote and Encourage Element within paragraph 5.2 and that all three Elements mesh together;
· The importance of reducing car access to our high streets and focus on public transport access;
· Encourage high street furniture;
· Clarification sought on why the Portfolio Holder for Economy and Assets was not included as a contributor. In response the Service Lead – Planning Strategy and Development Management apologised for the error and advised more care in report writing would be taken in the future;
· Clarification sought on paragraph 2.2. In response the Service Lead – Planning Strategy and Development Management advised it was the Cranbrook DPD that was progressing and apologised for the confusion;
· There is no question that town centres have to change and that they will change for ever but there is a need for flexibility to encourage people into towns.
Strategic Planning Committee:
1. Endorsed that the issues raised in this report are be used to inform more detailed work to be undertaken on the draft plan.
2. Considered each of the elements to town centre policy referred to in paragraph 5.2 of the report and advised which elements they would in principle support.