District Local Plan Review

District-Wide Policies Index

Settlement Policies Index  

Chapter 5

Town Centres

Introduction
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5.1 Town centres perform a vital function. They are major sources of employment, the principal location for many of the services and facilities required by the population, and are the focus of transport routes which provide maximum local accessibility to jobs and services. The vitality and viability of town centres is an indicator of the performance of the local economy, and contributes significantly to the quality of life of the District.
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5.2 The principal land use in town centres is shopping. Policies for town centres must give primacy to the continuation of this use and also provide opportunities for further such development. There must be provision also for the wide range of other uses found in town centres, including professional and public services, food, leisure and entertainment. Small towns such as those in the Forest of Dean also tend to have a residential component. It is the very mixture of land uses which help to generate the vitality of town centres, although shopping remains the principal attractor.
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5.3 Existing shopping provision in the District is largely concentrated within the four principal towns of Lydney, Cinderford, Coleford and Newent. The three towns of the south Forest are located quite close to each other and have similar catchment populations. Unlike many rural areas therefore, there is no single dominant shopping centre in the District. There is competition between the three centres for shopping, and each provides a similar range of services.
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5.4 The above features mean that there are limitations on the potential for further shopping development because of the limited catchment population and localised competition. This limitation is further emphasised by the existence nearby of other larger centres, particularly Gloucester and Cheltenham (sub-regional shopping centres) and towns such as Monmouth and Chepstow, all of which offer a wider range of services.
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5.5 In the north of the District the town of Newent has a small and rural catchment population which limits the range of local services provided in the town centre. Other competing and larger centres are also accessible, including Gloucester, Ledbury and Ross-on-Wye.
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5.6 One effect of the above characteristics is that a high level of both convenience and comparison goods expenditure arising within the District is diverted to larger centres outside the District. This has had the effect of limiting the potential for retail investment and expansion in the town centres of the District. Conversely there is also the opportunity for new retail development, particularly convenience goods operators, to re-capture a proportion of the expenditure currently diverted outside the District.
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5.7 PPG 6 advises that town centre health checks should be carried out to establish an understanding of the functioning of centres, and to provide the basis for formulating policies and proposals in Local Plans. A health check study was carried out in 1999 for the four towns in the District. The results of that study forms the basis for town centre policies in the Plan.
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5.8 The town centre health checks study identified a significant growth in convenience and comparison goods expenditure over the Plan period to 2011 (around £10 million for convenience spending and £108 million for comparison goods). This is in line with national trends. Lydney will have the highest increase, because of anticipated population growth, and Newent the lowest as the catchment population will not grow significantly.
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5.9 The study suggests there is limited interest by national and regional retail operators in developing new comparison goods floorspace in the District, primarily because of the relatively small catchment populations of the four towns. However, national and regional convenience goods retailers have demonstrated their interest in investing (for example Tesco, Co-op, Lidl, Dillons), together with local developers. The Plan must enable further opportunities for such investment to be available. The study notes that while there are very high expenditure outflows for most categories of comparison goods, the retention rate for hardware/DIY goods is much higher. It suggests that large out of centre stores in these categories of goods would have an adverse impact on the town centres.
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5.10 All four town centres have high outflows of convenience expenditure which are lost to competing centres outside the District. This does offer the potential for new convenience floorspace to be established which could retain higher levels of expenditure locally and add to the vitality and viability of the town centres.
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5.11 The study concludes that Coleford and Newent are in a good state of health overall, measured in terms of the mixture of uses, the levels of activity and confidence in the future. Cinderford and Lydney are considered to be in a neutral stage of health, with local factors inhibiting the ability of the towns to perform well, including the quality of the shopping environment and the vulnerability to competition from other centres.
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5.12 Further details of the performance of each of the town centres are provided in the respective chapters of the Plan dealing with the four towns (Part Two).
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Issues
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5.13 Government policy strongly emphasises the important role that town centres play in providing for the quality of life of residents, through providing a range of services and facilities in locations accessible to the widest number of people, and thereby also promoting social inclusion. Vital and viable town centres contribute to the local economy, and can provide a stimulating and vibrant environment. The Plan strategy emphasises the important role of town centres in assisting the social and economic revitalisation of the District.
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5.14 Shopping is one of the principal uses which can contribute to achieving the above objectives. It is a major attractor of trips to town centres, and thereby stimulates other services, businesses and facilities to become established. The combination and concentration of these activities within a confined location provides the basis for a vital town centre. The town centre policies of the Local Plan therefore must provide for not only retailing uses but also enable a wide range of related activities to become established.
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5.15 The trend towards larger retail units, for convenience goods particularly, can place difficult demands on town centres, which may not have the potential to provide sites of an appropriate scale. An important issue for the Plan will be to ensure that those town centre sites which exist, and have a realistic potential to be developed within the Plan period, are protected for primarily retail uses. This will also enable the Plan to manage more effectively any pressures for development outside the town centre. The Plan will adopt the sequential test provided for in PPG 6 to ensure that new retail development is directed towards town centre sites in the first instance, and that where alternative sites may be considered that their development is otherwise acceptable.
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5.16 There is a strong inter-relationship between the shopping and other policies of the Plan. For town centres to operate effectively there is a need to provide not only for retail development but also for an attractive built environment, for the safety and amenity of pedestrians, for a diverse range of uses, and for accessibility by a choice of means of transport. The policies of the Plan acknowledge this relationship. At the more detailed level the Plan chapters dealing with the four towns specifically identify proposals which draw together these features in relation to the needs and opportunities of each.
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5.17 For an extended period there has been little new retail or commercial development in any of the four towns. In more recent times however there has been increased activity, with developments underway or completed in Coleford and Cinderford, and other proposals committed or awaiting consent in Newent and Lydney. These have been primarily for convenience shopping, in town centre locations. The health checks study indicates that there is potential in each of the towns to retain higher levels of convenience expenditure than currently prevails. The Plan therefore should provide for development opportunities where practicable in each centre.
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5.18 The health checks study indicates that there is a level of competition between the three towns of the south Forest, but that currently no single town dominates. Of the three however, Cinderford is the most vulnerable to the loss of trade to the other centres. The Plan should have regard to maintaining the broad balance between the three towns. It would not be in the interests of the overall strategy to support new shopping development of such a scale in any one centre in the south Forest that would lead to a significant loss of vitality and viability in either of the other centres.
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5.19 The continuing decline of local shops, in neighbourhoods or in villages, is a matter for concern with respect to the reduced opportunity for those with least mobility, and the associated increase in car-borne trips. There is a need for Plan policies to support such local provision generally, and also to seek to provide for such facilities in new housing development where the scale and location of such development indicate that local services should be provided.
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5.20 The Council has formed, or is working with, town centre Partnerships in each of the four towns. The Partnerships comprise a broad range of interests. The health checks study and the Plan policies will be used to develop an agreed strategy and action plan for each centre. The first of these is already in place, for Coleford. A programme has been drawn up to develop agreed strategies for the other three towns.
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Strategic Framework
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5.21 The Plan will identify, protect and promote sites in town centres to accommodate new retail and service development. Sites will be identified as appropriate for retail use, or for mixed development. An important objective will be to accommodate additional retail development to reduce the current high levels of expenditure diverted outside the District to competing centres.
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5.22 The Plan strategy identifies the need to ensure the vitality and viability of town centres, in order to contribute to the quality of life of the District. A further important requirement is that town centres should contribute substantially to the additional jobs to be provided in the District over the Plan period. The strategy provides that retail development should be directed towards the town centres, to reinforce the role and functioning of those centres.
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5.23 The prevailing competition between the three similar sized centres in the south Forest means that none is predominant. The Plan will seek to strike a balance between the three towns of Lydney, Cinderford and Coleford so that no town centre should be severely disadvantaged in its functioning with respect to the others. Within this approach however, it is recognised that Lydney is likely to grow somewhat faster than Cinderford or Coleford due to the strategic concentration of development proposed. In particular care will be exercised that Cinderford town centre should not be unduly disadvantaged, as it is the most vulnerable of the south Forest towns.
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5.24 The strategy will emphasise the continuing need to improve the environment of all the four town centres as an essential component of local strategies to promote vitality and viability. This will require investment in the physical environment, management of movement to provide for improved pedestrian amenity, as well as promoting private sector investment and refurbishment. The Council will work with town Partnerships to achieve these objectives.
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5.25 The trend towards a reduction of local (neighbourhood) facilities is well established. The Plan strategy is unlikely to be able to directly affect this trend. However, policies will enable local facilities to establish or develop further, will ensure that large developments are adequately provided with local services, and will provide for access to local facilities by a choice of mode of transport.

Objectives

  1. To promote the viability and vitality of town centres
  2. To identify and protect for primarily retail use those town centre sites which offer realistic development potential over the Plan period
  3. To provide opportunities for non shopping development in town centres which will add to the diversity of attractions
  4. To ensure that development in any one of the three south Forest towns does not have an unduly detrimental effect upon any other
  5. To support and provide for accessible local shopping opportunities.

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Policies and Proposals
Town Centre Shopping
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(R)FS.1

Proposals for shopping development (Class A1) in defined town centres will be permitted. Proposals for shopping development not in town centres and which would give rise to many trips will be permitted only where there is a proven need for the development and there are no suitable town centre sites, or in the absence of suitable town centre sites, there are no suitable edge of centre sites. In all such cases the development must not:

  1. Cause harm to the Development Plan strategy
  2. Unacceptably affect the vitality and viability of town centres when considered with any other recent or proposed development
  3. Result in a significant increase in the length and number of car-based trips
  4. Create an unacceptably adverse environmental or traffic impact
  5. Result in an unacceptable limitation in the range and quality of allocated sites for other uses.

In all cases development must provide for safe and convenient access by a choice of modes of transport, including public transport, cycling and walking.

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5.26 The above policy supports the further development of shopping within town centres, as a means of continuing their essential role as accessible locations for retail, commerce and related activities. The chapters of the Plan dealing with the four towns will make provision for sites for development, together with a related series of proposals to enhance the vitality of the town centres.
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5.27 Where shopping proposals come forward for locations not in town centres the policy provides a comprehensive set of criteria to assess their acceptability. Only where there is a proven need for a development and there are no suitable town centre locations will such proposals be considered for approval, and only then after establishing that no suitable edge of town centre sites are available. Where these conditions exist, it will still be relevant to consider the impact of the proposal in terms of the remaining policy criteria.
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5.28 The health checks study indicates that there is sufficient spending capacity within the catchment areas of each of the four towns to support additional retail floorspace. There has been recent evidence of interest in all four towns in providing convenience shops, some of which have obtained planning consent and others have been implemented. During the Plan period there is a realistic expectation that further such development will take place, at Lydney and Newent in particular.
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5.29 The above study suggests that there is relatively less potential for further comparison goods floorspace to be developed, largely because of the small size of the catchment populations. The study particularly notes that the four town centres perform relatively strongly in providing for hardware and DIY goods. It suggests that proposals for larger out of centre stores providing such goods would be likely to be detrimental to the vitality and viability of the town centres. In considering any such proposals against policy (R)FS.1 the Council will have particular regard to the findings of the health checks study in this respect, and the potential impact of such a development on the vitality and viability of the respective town centres.
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5.30 The health checks study noted that there is some movement of shopping expenditure between the catchment areas of the town centres. At present this does not significantly detract from the functioning of any of the centres, although Cinderford tends to suffer the greater loss of trade. The overall strategy of the Plan is to promote the effective functioning of each of the town centres. It would be harmful to this strategy if any one of the town centres were to suffer a substantial loss of trade, to the extent that its vitality and viability would be brought into question. The provisions of the above policy identify this requirement to assess the impact of shopping proposals in any south Forest town upon the functioning of the others.
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Mixed Uses in Town Centres
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(R)FS.2

The use of upper floors in town centres for commercial, retail and residential uses will be permitted. Proposals incorporating non-retail (Class A1) uses at ground floor level will be permitted where they comply with Policy (R)FS.3.

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5.31 The use of upper floors is likely to increase the range and choice of services available to users of the town centre. It is also beneficial to the urban fabric in assisting with the maintenance and improvement of buildings. Such development therefore is likely to contribute to the viability and vitality of town centres. Introducing residential uses in town centres will also tend towards increasing security.
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5.32 In applying the above policy it is clear that consideration must also be given to other Plan policies, such as those relating to the built environment, to ensure an acceptable form of development. However, the Plan can assist and encourage the use of town centre buildings, for example by having regard to parking policies which offer discretion to reduce the requirement for on-site parking or enable suitable provision elsewhere. The Council also provides grants for building repair and residential refurbishment, and will work with individuals and town centre Partnerships to focus activity on town centre properties to assist in implementing the above policy. Environmental improvement schemes in the town centres will also assist in supporting business confidence and stimulating investment. Mixed use schemes which incorporate non-retail uses at ground floor level must have regard to the need to maintain the vitality and continuity of the principal shopping frontages.
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Primary and Secondary Retail Frontages
(R)FS.3
Within the primary retail frontages defined on the Plan Inset Maps, proposals for a change of use on ground floors from retail (Class A1) will only be permitted where the proposal does not result in the concentration of two or more adjoining non A1 uses. An exception may be considered where the proposal makes a positive contribution towards the vitality and attractiveness of the frontage. Within the secondary retail frontages defined on the Plan Inset Maps, a change of use from retail (Class A1) or financial and professional services (Class A2) or food and drink (Class A3) uses will only be permitted where the appearance and function of the frontage will not be adversely affected in terms of appearance or the overall continuity of A1, A2 and A3 uses.
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Shop Fronts
(R)FS.4

Proposals for the alteration or replacement of shop fronts will be permitted where they meet the following requirements:

  1. The proposed design and materials are compatible with the architectural style and materials of the building and surrounding buildings
  2. The proposal retains those elements of an existing shop front which contribute to the character or appearance of the building and the area, particularly in Conservation Areas.

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5.33 Town centres generally contain some frontages where shopping uses at street level are continuous, or form the predominant use. These constitute the primary shopping frontages. They are of fundamental importance to the functioning of a town centre, as they provide convenient comparison shopping for town centre users, and retailers benefit from the high level of pedestrian volumes attracted to such areas. The preservation of such primary retail frontages is a fundamental requirement for ensuring the viability of town centres. Outside the primary frontages are secondary frontages where retail uses are intermixed with a wide variety of other commercial uses, and residential properties. Secondary frontages are important elements of town centres in that they provide locations for many other town centre functions, including professional offices, prepared food, leisure businesses and specialist retailing.
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5.34 The health checks study provides the basis for determining the primary and secondary frontages which are identified on the Plan Inset Maps.
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5.35 In small and historic centres such as the Forest of Dean towns it is likely that the primary frontages will not be fully continuous with A1 uses. Other uses such as hotels, pubs or professional offices will occur. Nevertheless, A1 use will predominate, with associated high pedestrian flows, lower vacancy levels and a predominance of shop fronts, adding interest and variety to the scene. The above policy aims to allow an effective mix of uses to integrate into the retail centre, but not permit a localised concentration of non shopping uses such as restaurants, take-away outlets, banks and estate agents. The only exception to this policy will be those proposals whose nature would make a positive contribution to the town centre=s vitality and attractiveness. In recognising the different form and function of secondary retail frontages the above policy provides for more flexibility to allow proposals which would enhance the appearance and function of the frontage and contribute towards its diversification.
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5.36 A related issue is that the appearance and function of retail frontages is strongly influenced by the presence of shop fronts, which undoubtedly provide interest and variety, and add to the attraction of town centres. The Plan must enable changes to take place to shop fronts to accommodate the needs of businesses. However, it will also be appropriate to ensure that proposals have regard to their surroundings in terms of design and materials, and respect the existing features and qualities of buildings and their surroundings. The town centres of Coleford and Newent are both Conservation Areas, and the historic built environment undoubtedly adds to the attractiveness of these centres for shoppers. Changes to shop fronts in these two town centres will need to take particular care to respect their historic character.
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5.37 The Council has prepared supplementary design guidance on shop fronts which will be placed on deposit with the Plan.
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Local Shopping Provision
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(R)FS. 5

Within any of the defined settlement boundaries shown on the Proposals Map the development of shops designed primarily to provide for neighbourhoods or villages will be permitted where the amenity of surrounding residents is not impaired and safe and convenient access and parking can be provided.

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5.38 In recent years there has been a large decline in the number of stores and post offices in villages and in neighbourhoods within towns. Such services, though small in scale, are of great value to a community, particularly to older and less mobile people.
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 5.39 The above policy is designed to support such local services. Where appropriate the Plan will seek to secure local shops as part of large scale housing land allocations.

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 District Local Plan Review

District-Wide Policies Index

Settlement Policies Index

FW v1


Forest of Dean District Local Plan Review, 1st Deposit Draft. July 2000


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