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Written Statement - Planning for Retailing and Town Centres

Carl Sargeant, Minister for Natural Resources

The Welsh Government is committed to securing accessible, efficient and competitive retail and commercial provision for all the communities of Wales and for revitalising our existing town centres through a range of regeneration initiatives.

The Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty is responsible, through the Vibrant and Viable Places agenda and the Support Your High Street Campaign, for taking direct action by the Welsh Government to help regenerate our town centres.

However, I recognise, through my own responsibilities, that the planning system is a key tool in supporting and creating successful town centres.  

Our existing national retail planning policies promote Wales’ established retail centres as the most appropriate locations for new retail development, reflected in Planning Policy Wales.

I have recently laid the Planning (Wales) Bill before the National Assembly for Wales. The aim of this bill, and my wider positive planning agenda, is to tackle delivery structures and procedures, to streamline the planning system and to support the change of culture so that planning is an enabler of quality developments in appropriate locations.

In January I published best practice guidance on Local Development Orders which enable local planning authorities to designate areas, including retail centres, which have a more simplified planning regime and in which certain change of use applications, for example, would no longer be required.

I am also examining ways in which certain uses of buildings, including retail premises, and current planning controls which affect changes in these, can be improved. I have instructed officials to commission research on the “use classes” issue and, in particular, to examine potential changes to town centre use classes. This will inform secondary legislation in due course.

It is also my intention to introduce controls on the insertion of new mezzanine floors in retail developments, a tool which has been used by out-of-town retailers to increase the sizes of their stores significantly, without the need for planning permission. I shall be consulting on the specific nature of these controls in due course.

I am also aware of the need to review and refresh retail planning policy and advice.

Earlier this year, I published research which examined the effects of our current retail planning policies on town centres. One of the key findings was the growth and extent of alternative forms of retailing, including out of town and online shopping, and their impact on town centres. Amongst the recommendations was the need for improved clarity in retail planning guidance.

With this in mind I have instructed officials to commence a refresh of Planning Policy Wales and TAN 4, on retailing and town centres, to ensure they are up-to-date and take into account the needs and requirements of 21st century town and retailing centres which are changing their character as shopping trends evolve.

We are using all of the tools available to us, to ensure we have up to date appropriate legislation, policy and guidance in place to support, enhance and regenerate our town centres.