UK: Is This The High Water Mark For Out Of Town Retail Development?

Summary and implications

As a number of planning permissions continue to be granted for out of town retail, we look at two recent appeal cases determined by the same inspector that hinged on the impact on the town centre. Both appeals were allowed and we consider below the reasons that the inspector gave for concluding that the out of town retail was acceptable.

Beagle Development, Christchurch

The planning inspector allowed an appeal against Christchurch Borough Council's (the Council) refusal to grant planning permission for a new supermarket and two retail units outside the town centre. This appeal was considered concurrently with an appeal against the refusal of planning permission for another supermarket at the nearby Meteor Retail Park (discussed below).

The main issues at appeal were the effect of the proposal on the vitality and viability of Christchurch town centre and whether any harm to the town centre would be outweighed by the public benefits of the proposal.

Impact on the town centre

As the parties agreed that there were no suitable sites in the town centre or edge of centre (the sequential test), the question for the inspector was whether the proposal also passed the impact test. This test requires an assessment of the proposal on existing, committed and planned investment in centres within the catchment area and on town centre vitality and viability. National planning policy provides that where the proposal is likely to have a significant adverse impact, it should be refused.

The applicant's case was that whilst the proposal was estimated to create direct trade diversion of around £1.7m from the town centre, this would be offset by additional linked trip trade of about £2.16m, due to the site's close location to the town centre. The Council had rejected the applicant's predicted linked trip rates, but the inspector was satisfied that the applicant had provided robust evidence to support its case. In the absence of satisfactory evidence on the point from the Council, the inspector accepted the applicant's estimates and found that the linked trips to the town centre and the benefits of a £485,000 section 106 town centre enhancement contribution meant that any harm to the town centre would be mitigated.

Other benefits

A key consideration for the inspector was the number of jobs that would be created as a result of the proposal. In addition to the new jobs that would be created by the construction and operation of the retail scheme, the retention of jobs (and creation of new ones) by the current owner occupier of the site, Beagle Technology Group (Beagle) was an important benefit of the proposed scheme.

Beagle is a highly specialised supplier of aeronautical components. Its facilities at the site were no longer appropriate and Beagle needed to construct a new, fit-for-purpose production facility. To maintain its accreditation, Beagle had to maintain continuous operation, so needed to fund and develop a mirror production facility before ceasing production at its existing premises. This could not be achieved on the existing site and the Council had accepted that a retail scheme for the site was the only option available to generate the capital funding required for the replacement facility. Beagle's new premises, once developed, would enable Beagle to secure 100 existing jobs and generate up to 90 new jobs in the local area.

The inspector considered that the employment generation and retention and other benefits of the proposed development, (including the revitalisation of an important site close to the town centre and a positive enhancement of the quality of the built environment) weighed "significantly in favour of the proposal".

Meteor Retail Park, Somerford Road, Christchurch

This appeal also concerned the refusal of an application for an out of town food store. Planning permission had been previously granted for a varied scheme, most recently, in May 2014 when outline planning permission was granted for a food store and two non-bulky goods retail units. The fact that the applicant already had permission for a retail scheme at the site (otherwise known as the fallback position) was a material consideration for the inspector.

Again, the main issue to be considered was the impact of the development on the vitality and viability of Christchurch town centre, as the sequential test had been satisfied. The Council's reason for refusing the application was the risk to the town centre's vitality and viability due to trade diversion to the proposed store and the risk that the town centre Waitrose store would close and jobs would be lost as a result of the proposal.

In reaching his decision, the inspector stressed the need for an objective assessment of the proposal's impact in accordance with the Council's planning policy. As the Council had not provided him with substantive evidence of the town centre's vulnerability, in light of the evidence that had been presented to him, he found that the proposal did not conflict with the Council's planning policy. He also noted that the Council's planning consultants had concluded that it was unlikely that the Waitrose store would be forced to close as a result of the proposed development, compared to the existing consented scheme and agreed with their view.

In light of the above, and in consideration of the £533,333 section 106 contribution for town centre enhancements, he found that the impact of the proposed development on the town centre would not be substantially different to the permitted scheme.

Commentary

These decisions illustrate that there can be circumstances in which out of town retail is acceptable in planning terms, but that what is vital in order to secure consent for such development is an objective assessment of the impact on the town centre supported by clear and robust evidence. Both schemes proposed other benefits, which were taken into account by the inspector, with significant weight apportioned to employment considerations. As the UK economy continues to improve, it will be interesting to see whether this continues to be the case in future planning decisions.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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