Local Plan 2040 Draft Plan - Strategy options and draft policies consultation

Ended on the 3rd September 2021
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5.0 Town Centre & Retail Policies

Recent changes

5.1 The long-term trends affecting town centres identified in Local Plan 2030 have not changed. Centres are still challenged by the rise in internet shopping, the concentration of national chain retailers in larger retail centres outside of the borough and competition from out of centre shops. However, these pressures have been intensified in recent months by Covid-19-related lockdowns and the reluctance of people to visit crowded areas. As a result, a number of businesses have had to close permanently and vacancy levels have risen.

5.2 In response, the government has provided support to town centres through a number of initiatives. It has also introduced greater flexibility in the uses that can occupy shop units by creating a new use class for commercial, business and service uses. The government's Towns Deal Fund aims to drive the economic regeneration of towns across the country and Bedford was selected to bid for funding. A number of regeneration projects have been put forward and the government's decision is awaited.

5.3 The Council has also produced a Bedford Town Centre Plan which sets out a series of actions to tackle challenges facing the town centre. These cover the six themes of environment, regulation and property, promotion, strategy, connectivity and events. It sets out the Council's vision for the town centre as "Bedford - a place to live, work, shop, learn and explore".

5.4 As part of this local plan review the Council asked the public about the issues facing town centres and retailing in the borough. A wide range of comments were made and these can be grouped into the following areas:

  • focussing on niche and independent small businesses
  • enhancing physical and cultural features
  • promoting events and activities, community space and leisure facilities
  • increasing the number of town centre dwellings
  • managing the night-time economy to reduce disturbance
  • making the town safer
  • increasing green spaces
  • improving cleaning and maintenance
  • promoting sustainable transport

5.5 These comments have informed the Council's work on regenerating and promoting town centres, and also the policy approach of the local plan.

5.6 This section sets out an up-to-date planning policy approach that responds to the issues facing town centres. The Council is aware of the forthcoming changes to permitted development rights due to come into effect in August 2021, which will permit the change of use of particular town centre uses to residential use for units up to a certain size. The Council will assess the impact of this on its draft policies before finalising the local plan.

Hierarchy of town centres

5.7 The Bedford Town Centre Study commissioned by the Council (see Table 1) confirms that the town centre hierarchy set out in Local Plan 2030 remains appropriate. It confirms that Bedford town centre is the main focus for retailing in the borough. In order to maintain and enhance its role, it is important that the primary shopping area of Bedford town centre continues to be the preferred location for new retail development and other town centre uses.

5.8 Kempston (the Saxon Centre together with parades on Bedford Road and Bunyan Road) continues to perform the role of a district centre. In addition, the Council has identified a number of local centres which serve smaller catchment areas. Five local centres are designated within the Bedford urban area, whilst in the rural parts of the borough a number of key service centres are designated which serve their surrounding rural areas. Remaining groupings of shops which are of purely neighbourhood significance are identified as neighbourhood centres. Wixams new settlement is identified as a potential key service centre as, over the course of the Plan period, the planned town centre is expected to be constructed and, once completed, will serve the settlement and wider rural area.

5.9 Town centre boundaries are shown on the Policies Map. These are important for the operation of the government's 'town centres first' policy.

Policy TC1S* – Hierarchy of town centres

The hierarchy of centres is as follows –

Type of centre

Designated centres

1) Strategic centre

Bedford town centre

2) District centre

Kempston

(including the Saxon Centre, Bedford Road and Bunyan Road)

3) Local centres

Urban centres

Castle Road, Bedford

Church Lane, Bedford

Ford End Road, Bedford

Midland Road (west), Bedford

Tavistock Street, Bedford

Key service centres

Bromham

Clapham

Great Barford

Sharnbrook

Shortstown

Wilstead

Wixams (proposed new town centre)

Wootton

4) Neighbourhood centres

Remaining centres (small parades of shops of purely neighbourhood significance which are not town centres in retail policy terms)

New main town centre uses1 are required to locate in Bedford town centre, Kempston district centre and the local centres. If no suitable sites are available, edge of centre2 locations should be considered.

Development should contribute positively to the vitality and viability of the centre, and should be appropriate to the scale, character and function of the centre.

1 Main town centre uses: Defined in the National Planning Policy Framework as retail, office, leisure and entertainment facilities (including cinemas, restaurants, drive-through restaurants, bars and pubs, nightclubs, casinos, health and fitness centres, indoor bowling centres, bingo halls), and arts, culture and tourism development (including theatres, museums, galleries and concert halls, hotels and conference facilities).

2 Edge of centre: For retail purposes, a location that is well connected to, and up to 300 metres from, the primary shopping area. For all other main town centre uses, a location within 300 metres of the town centre boundary.

 

*The suffix 'S' is used to show that this is a strategic policy

Amount of development required

5.10 The town centres' study has assessed future needs for new retail floor space in the borough over the plan period taking account of expected population growth, competition from other centres, internet shopping and unimplemented planning permissions. The study shows that there is insufficient quantitative demand to support the provision of additional convenience goods floor space in the immediate future, but that by 2030 demand could support up to 2,500 sq m net additional floor space, increasing to 5,800 sq m net by 2040.

5.11 For comparison goods, quantitative demand to support the provision of additional floor space does not arise until after 2035 and only by 2040 could there be demand to support up to 12,400 sq m net floor space. The town centres' study advises that the use of long-term projections should be treated with caution and reviewed regularly in order to test the accuracy of the forecasts against emerging datasets.

5.12 The town centres' study also includes an assessment of the need over the plan period for new commercial leisure facilities (including leisure and entertainment facilities such as cinemas, restaurants, bars and pubs, nightclubs, casinos, health and fitness centres, indoor bowl centres, bingo halls, theatres and concert halls). The study concludes that for most commercial leisure categories there is already adequate provision.

Location of development

5.13 Government guidance in the National Planning Policy Framework advocates a 'town centres first' approach to the location of new retail, office and leisure uses defined as 'main town centre uses' (known as the sequential test). It requires planning policies to promote the long-term vitality and viability of town centres, meeting anticipated needs for town centre uses in or on the edge of centres where sites are available or otherwise in other accessible locations that are well connected to the town centre. The town centres' study has considered potential development opportunities in and on the edge of Bedford town centre and no sites additional to those allocated in Local Plan 2030 have been identified.

5.14 If there is demand later in the plan period for retail and other town centre development, and there are no suitable vacant units available in and on the edge of town centres, then the Council accepts that that development will occur in accessible out of centre locations that are well-connected to the town centre in accordance with government guidance.

5.15 It is recognised that certain uses that are defined in the National Planning Policy Framework as 'main town centre uses' and therefore expected to locate as a preference in town centres, may have particular market and locational requirements which mean that exceptionally they may only be accommodated in specific locations. This may particularly be the case for bulky goods retailing and certain types of office and leisure development that require a parkland or main road setting. These types of development have specific needs that often cannot easily be accommodated in town centre locations. Furthermore, the business model of some commercial, business and service uses means that they prefer not to locate in a town centre. In such cases the Council will encourage them to locate in edge of centre locations and within easy walking distance of a town centre in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework.

5.16 To ensure that out of centre development does not have an adverse impact on town centres, the National Planning Policy Framework states that proposals for new retail, leisure and office development should consider the impact on town centre vitality and viability, as well as on existing, committed and planned investment in centres in the catchment area of the proposal. The town centres' study has confirmed that for retail proposals the locally set thresholds in Local Plan 2030 remain appropriate given the vulnerabilities of the various centres.

5.17 Proposals for out of centre retailing will be expected to include details of the nature of the use proposed so as to demonstrate that the requirements of the sequential test are met. To ensure that a development does not change its character unacceptably in ways that would create a development that should have been refused on grounds of adverse impact on the vitality and viability of an existing centre, it may be appropriate to grant planning permission subject to conditions limiting the type of goods to be sold and preventing the development being subdivided.

Policy TC2 – Out of centre development

New retail, leisure and office development is required to locate in Bedford town centre, Kempston district centre and the local centres as defined in Policy TC1S – Hierarchy of town centres. If no suitable sites are available, edge of centre* locations should be considered. Only if suitable sites are not available should out of centre sites be considered. These should preferably be accessible sites which are well connected to the town centre. Certain uses that have particular market and locational requirements may exceptionally be permitted in out of centre locations subject to sufficient justification.

Any retail and leisure development proposed outside of the defined town centres must be subject to an impact assessment if it exceeds the following thresholds.

For leisure development the threshold is 2,500 sq m gross floor space.

For retail development:

i. If the nearest centre to the proposed development is Bedford town centre or Kempston district centre, the threshold is 500 sq m net floor space.

ii. If the nearest centre to the proposed development is a local centre, the threshold is 200 sq m net floor space.

The assessment will relate to the impact on Bedford town centre, Kempston district centre and local centres within the catchment and demonstrate that development will not have a significant adverse impact on town centre vitality and viability or existing, committed and planned investment in the centres. Proposals for new retail development permitted in accordance with this policy will, where necessary, be subject to conditions to ensure that the development does not subsequently change its character unacceptably. Such conditions may limit the type of goods to be sold and prevent the development being subdivided.

* Edge of centre: For retail purposes, a location that is well connected to, and up to 300 metres from, the primary shopping area. For all other main town centre uses, a location within 300 metres of the town centre boundary.

Bedford town centre

5.18 The extent of Bedford town centre is shown on the Policies Map. This encloses the area predominantly occupied by main town centre uses, which are defined in the National Planning Policy Framework as: retail, office, leisure and entertainment facilities (including cinemas, restaurants, drive-through restaurants, bars and pubs, nightclubs, casinos, health and fitness centres, indoor bowling centres, bingo halls), and arts, culture and tourism development (including theatres, museums, galleries, concert halls, hotels and conference facilities). The area is unchanged from that defined in Local Plan 2030.

5.19 A primary shopping area is also defined on the Policies Map, which encloses the area where retail activity is concentrated within the town centre. Retail uses are expected to locate as a preference within the primary shopping area. By defining a primary shopping area, the aim is to retain a core of activity, which is one of the main attractions and purposes of the town centre.

5.20 Within the town centre a range of uses appropriate to a town centre location will be encouraged. Allowing a wide range of uses will reduce vacancies and increase flexibility, giving niche retailers the freedom to locate where it best suits them. However, it is important to avoid a concentration of similar uses which might have a cumulative impact on such things as environmental quality, amenity or parking, or would increase the risk of anti-social behaviour and reduce the vitality, viability and diversity of the town centre.

5.21 Residential use should primarily be above ground floor level because of the importance of maintaining active frontages at street level, however outside of the primary shopping area, residential use at ground floor level may also be appropriate if it would not adversely impact the vitality and viability of the town centre as a whole.

Policy TC3 – Bedford town centre – changes of use

Within Bedford town centre a range of uses will be supported provided that:

i. They contribute to the vitality, viability and diversity of the town centre, and;

ii. They avoid the concentration of similar uses whose cumulative impact would be to the detriment of environmental quality, amenity or parking, or would increase the risk of anti-social behaviour.

Acceptable uses in the town centre are likely to include: commercial, business and service uses, hot food takeaways, public houses, night clubs, cinemas, theatres, concert halls, community uses, educational uses and other uses appropriate to a town centre.

Residential use will be supported above ground floor level throughout the town centre, provided that the use would have safe and convenient access and would not inhibit the functioning of the ground floor use. Outside of the primary shopping area residential use at ground floor level may also be appropriate if it can be shown that the proposed residential use would not adversely impact the vitality and viability of the town centre as a whole.

Local shopping

5.22 Government guidance in the National Planning Policy Framework recognises the importance to communities of local shopping facilities which provide for people's day-to-day needs. Local plans should promote the retention and development of local shops in local centres and villages. Local shopping facilities reduce the need for residents to travel and are particularly important for those with mobility difficulties or who do not have access to a car. Local shops are also valuable for 'top-up' shopping trips for mobile, car-owning households. Policy TC1S (Hierarchy of town centres) identifies district, local and neighbourhood centres as being important for local shopping.

5.23 The town centres' study supports the identification of Kempston (Saxon Centre together with parades on Bedford Road and Bunyan Road) as a district centre. As a town centre, Kempston district centre is a preferred location for new retail development. The town centre boundary is shown on the Policies Map and is unchanged from that defined in Local Plan 2030. A primary shopping area has not been defined for Kempston district centre as its size does not justify it.

5.24 Residential use should primarily be above ground floor level because of the importance of maintaining active frontages at street level, however in fringe areas of the district centre, residential use at ground floor level may also be appropriate if it would not adversely impact the vitality and viability of the centre as a whole.

Policy TC4 – Kempston district centre – new commercial, business and service use development

Proposals for new commercial, business, service and other uses appropriate to the district centre will be supported if:

i. New development will enhance the appearance of the district centre; and

ii. New development will be of a scale and form which is appropriate to the function of the district centre;

and

iii. Satisfactory servicing and car parking facilities can be provided to avoid on-street congestion and to protect highway safety; and

iv. The proposal will be accessible by a choice of means of transport other than the private car.

Policy TC5 – Kempston district centre – changes of use

Within the district centre a range of uses will be supported provided that:

i. They contribute to the vitality, viability and diversity of the district centre; and

ii. They avoid the concentration of similar uses whose cumulative impact would be to the detriment of environmental quality, amenity or parking, or would increase the risk of anti-social behaviour.

Acceptable uses in the district centre are likely to include: commercial, business and service uses, hot food takeaways, public houses, night clubs, cinemas, theatres, concert halls, community uses, educational uses and other uses appropriate to a town centre.

Residential use will be supported above ground floor level throughout the district centre, provided that the use would have safe and convenient access and would not inhibit the functioning of the ground floor use. In fringe areas of the district centre residential use at ground floor level may also be appropriate if it can be shown that the proposed residential use would not adversely impact the vitality and viability of the centre as a whole.

5.25 After Bedford town centre and Kempston district centre, Policy TC1S (Hierarchy of town centres) identifies the largest centres within the urban area as local centres. These have a good range of shops that are locally important, together with non-retail services and local public facilities. As town centres, they are the preferred locations for new retail development. The boundaries of the centres are shown on the Policies Map. These are unchanged from those defined in Local Plan 2030. Primary shopping areas have not been defined for local centres as their restricted geographical extent does not warrant it. The aim of Policy TC7 is to protect the diversity of uses and ensure that the vitality and viability of local centres is not adversely affected by changes of use.

5.26 In rural areas, key service centres also perform the role of local centres and are important in serving their surrounding rural areas. Town centre and primary shopping area boundaries have not been defined for such centres because the town centre uses within them are often dispersed. They are instead protected by Policy TC7 which applies to all shops associated with the centre.

Policy TC6 – New commercial, business and service uses in local centres

Proposals for new commercial, business, service and other uses appropriate to a local centre within or on the edge of existing local centres, or in existing or proposed new residential areas where there is a local need, will be supported if the proposal is of a scale appropriate to the role and function of the centre and is intended primarily to serve the needs of the local community.

Policy TC7 – Local centres (including key service centres) – changes of use

Within local centres a range of uses will be supported provided that:

i. They contribute to the vitality, viability and diversity of the centre; and

ii. They avoid the concentration of similar uses whose cumulative impact would be to the detriment of environmental quality, amenity or parking, or would increase the risk of anti-social behaviour.

Acceptable uses in local centres are likely to include: commercial, business and service uses, hot food takeaways, public houses, community uses, educational uses and other uses appropriate to a local centre.

Residential use will be supported above ground floor level throughout local centres, provided that the use would have safe and convenient access and would not inhibit the functioning of the ground floor use. In fringe areas of local centres residential use at ground floor level may also be appropriate if it can be shown that the proposed residential use would not adversely impact the vitality and viability of the centre as a whole.

5.27 Neighbourhood centres, which can be either in rural or urban areas, are smaller centres which have a small catchment serving local needs and are of purely neighbourhood significance. They are not considered to be town centres in policy terms and are not defined on the Policies Map, nevertheless the essential shops within them can be important for those who do not have access to a car or for 'top-up' shopping trips. Smaller groupings of shops which are not large enough to form a centre, together with individual shops may also be important locally where they provide for essential needs.

5.28 In 2020 the government established new Use Class F2 which includes small shops of under 280 sq m floor space mostly selling essential goods, including food, where there is no other such facility within 1000 m distance. The creation of a separate class for such uses means that planning permission is needed before they can be used for other purposes. Public houses can also be important for local communities, particularly in rural areas. The aim of Policy TC8 therefore is to maintain essential local shops and public houses which are important for the local community and where there are no others nearby.

Policy TC8 – Essential local shops and public houses – changes of use

The Council will only grant planning permission for the change of use of essential local shops within Class F2 or public houses to other uses when:

i. There is an alternative facility within 1000 metres providing a similar service; and

ii. The applicant can demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Council that the current (or last) use is no longer economically viable (including in appropriate circumstances financial information); this can best be demonstrated by providing evidence that the property has been actively and appropriately marketed; and

iii. The use would not lead to the concentration of similar uses whose cumulative impact would be to the detriment of environmental quality, amenity or parking, or would increase the risk of anti-social behaviour.

Impact of town centre uses

5.29 In order to avoid any over-concentration of unneighbourly facilities, for example restaurants and hot food takeaways, and to maintain residential amenity close to residential areas, it may be necessary to restrict the opening times of town centre uses. In addition it will be important that restaurants and hot food takeaways provide appropriate refuse facilities.

Policy TC9 – Impact of town centre uses

Town centre uses* will be supported where they will not give rise to a detrimental effect (either individually or cumulatively) on adjacent uses or the character and amenity of the area through noise, smell, litter, traffic problems or other side effects. The Council will consider restricting the opening hours of premises where necessary.

This policy applies to town centres, neighbourhood centres and individual shops throughout the borough.

* Town centre uses: Defined in the National Planning Policy Framework as retail, office, leisure and entertainment facilities (including cinemas, restaurants, drive-through restaurants, bars and pubs, nightclubs, casinos, health and fitness centres, indoor bowling centres, bingo halls), and arts, culture and tourism development (including theatres, museums, galleries and concert halls, hotels and conference facilities).

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