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Home Maidstone News Article
Councils across the country are ignoring the Government’s requirement that they adopt a town centre first approach - and Maidstone is no exception.
The Government’s new National Planning Policy Framework became law in March and a town-centre-first requirement was one of its fundamental principles.
But research by the Association of Convenience Stores has found that 76% of all new retail floor space granted planning permission since March has been to out-of-town sites.
The association found that of 43 approved large-scale retail applications across the country, just five were in town centres.
Here in Maidstone, the borough council has granted permission for a Next store at Eclipse Park and is currently looking at an application for a large retail development at Newnham Court.
Although there are already retail premises there, the application from Land Securities seeks to double the retail provision, with the addition of a Waitrose and Debenhams, as well as a larger Notcutts Garden Centre and other stores.
The Government requires councils to apply a “sequential test” to retail applications, seeking to approve first those in the town, then those on the edge of town, only then permitting those outside of town if there are no other sites available.
But the report found: “Planning authorities are talking decisions always on the basis of a balanced judgement of the pros and cons of the proposed development. The sequential and impact tests in the NPPF are not being applied as pass or fail ‘gateway’ tests, but as only two of the factors to be taken into account.”
In 42 out of the 50 cases, the council planning officers had urged approval.
The association’s 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.”
Maidstone council itself has proposed two town centre sites to prioritise for retail development within the town centre - at Maidstone East station and at the former Royal Mail Sorting Office in Sandling Lane.
There is also currently a large store currently vacant within the Mall Chequers, formerly occupied by T.J.Hughes.
Mary Portas whose report advising Government on how to support high streets was published two years ago, said: “We are still building out of town retail space at an alarming rate while many high streets have perfectly viable space available.
"If people hear about loggers ripping up the rain forest or developers building on green field sites, they get it.
"This is just as silly a use of space and we can do better. If we say ‘town centre first’, let’s mean it.
“For the future of our communities, we have to get serious about this issue and use land and space appropriately.”
A coalition of organisations including the Association of Convenience Stores, 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.
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