Following the recent IPI conference on Retail and Town centres, it’s time to return to the theme of the Retail Planning Guidelines, and Retail Strategies, and pose some issues not aired in the conference that day.
It’s a fundamental aim of the Draft 2011 Retail Planning Guidelines to “protect, support and promote the continuing role of city and town centres”. This is a consistent theme to the 2005 Guidelines, which in principle sought to prioritise town centre retail through approaches such as sequential testing. It didn’t work.
The roll-out of retail strategies, resulted in the over-estimation, and over-supply of retail floor space generally in all the wrong areas. It also pitched the existing town centre retailers in an adversarial or “protectionist” role against the people they supported with their rates, as Councils went in search of new rates base. The problems with the approach to Retail Strategies over the last 10 years were numerous, and the results on the ground speak for themselves, and the penny is dropping.
What’s important now though, is to look at the new Guidelines and ask can we to do something useful and different? The answer is yes, but it will mean that Council’s will need to stop hiring the same old people to do the same old thing.
The key lies in the new National Policy Objectives:
1. Retail development should be plan-led, including the identification of retail requirements and appropriate planning policies and objectives, and the implementation of city and town centre management strategies aimed at securing development plan objectives.
2. The planning system should focus on promoting and supporting the vitality and viability of city and town centres in facilitating the requirements of the retail sector.
3. The planning system should play a key role in ensuring competitiveness in the retail sector, particularly through city / town centre management strategies and active land management approaches aimed at new market entrants, encouraging necessary development in suitable locations, and advancing choice of retail outlets for the consumer.
4. The planning system should promote forms of retail development that in themselves will encourage greater use of sustainable transport modes including public transport, cycling and walking in accordance with the Smarter Travel strategy.
5. Retail development has a key role in delivering quality in the built environment by contributing to a high standard of urban design.
The inclusion of Town Centre Management strategy in the first and third NPOs is significant, but it can’t be left as an abstract measure for the implementation section. It has to be done as an integral part of the Retail Strategy, where the Strategy needs to become a process; a living document. This requires Councils and Business Communities to roll-up the sleeves and work in Partnership.
Retail Strategies need to go beyond Vitality and Viability. Town centres need to be able to provide a product or experience that can compete with or complement very sophisticated multi-national retailers and booming e/m-commerce models. As the central bank said .. Wait and see isn’t an option. Any town centre that collectively works to re-position itself and respond to change is a much more attractive proposition.