A review of the planning system commissioned by the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has revealed that the Government’s Town Centre First policies are failing, as councils across the country approve millions of square feet of new out of town retail development.

The report analysed a national sample of 50 case studies of planning applications for new retail developments to discover how local planning authorities are applying specific rules laid down in the National Planning Policy Framework designed to promote investment in town centres. Findings from the report include:

• 76% of the new retail floor space given planning approved since the new national planning laws came into force is located outside of town centres

• Only 7 out of the 50 applications (14%) were refused planning permission – of which 3 were refused because there was a competing similar proposal in the same town which was preferred

• Of the 43 developments permitted, 5 were in town centres (12%), 7 were edge of centre (16%) and 31 were out of town (72%)

The report concludes that the sequential and impact tests are not being applied effectively, that Development Plans are either out-of-date or lack sufficient details to give a clear indication of what the decision indicated by the Plan should be, and that supposed evidence-based retail assessments are nothing more than advocacy documents promoting the case of the developers.

On the launch of the report, a coalition of organisations including the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), Federation of Small Businesses, Campaign to Protect Rural England, British Independent Retail Association, Rural Shops Alliance, Association of Town and City Management, Action for Market Towns and the Town and Country Planning Association has written to Eric Pickles MP, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government calling for intervention to ensure that applications are blocked when they fail planning tests and a requirement for the Secretary of State to step in and review decisions that put town centres at risk.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “This report paints a disturbing picture about planning decisions being driven by developers rather than local people, and destroying high streets up and down the country. The NPPF is simply not being applied properly, as under-resourced councils fail to get to grips with making coherent local plans and out of town developers fill their boots.

“The failure to apply the town centre first policy is thwarting investment in town centres. Retailers who want to invest have lost confidence in councils to protect high streets from out of town development, so they are targeting cheaper, easier out of town developments. This is a vicious circle that only central Government can break by monitoring planning decisions and strengthening the town centre first policy.”