Current planning policy is set out in planning policy statement 5 entitled (PPS5)‘Retailing and Town Centres’, which includes the objectives of sustaining and enhancing the vitality and viability of town centres and of maintaining an efficient, competitive and innovative retail sector. The Department for Regional Development is proposing to review this in the near future, and as part of that process, the views and comments of all interested parties will be invited. My Department will contribute appropriately to that review in the light of its experience in applying the policy.
I welcome the Minister’s statement. It recognises the important issue that, in a relatively fixed total retail market, the GB multiple chains are doing great damage to the smaller, mainly independent, retailers in our town and city centres. Would the Minister agree that in developing a Departmental policy there should be some awareness of the competition aspect arising from locating out-of-town shopping centres near to town centres? They tend to be dominated by two major GB multiples, which now have a very large share of Northern Ireland’s total grocery market. That is potentially damaging the interests of consumers and the farming sector.
There are big issues out there. There are issues of competition. The Department for Regional Development is undertaking a strategic review of PPS5 in the near future. That will afford an opportunity for the entire retail planning policy framework to be reconsidered. In the meantime, the planning service must work within the policy context provided by PPS5 and, where appropriate, the statutory development plans.
While retail planning policy is precautionary in respect of town centres, in principle it precludes retail development not outside town centres but inside the urban development limit, where the policy tests of PPS5 are met. These policy tests include consideration of the type of retailing proposed; the availability of suitable alternative sites in the town centre; the impact of the proposed development and a range of other more general material planning considerations. Consequently, there are circumstances when it is deemed appropriate for major retail developments such as retail warehousing to be located away from town.
(Mr Speaker in the Chair)
I note what the Minister has said about the present planning policy in respect of out-of-town shopping centres and the emphasis on maintaining the vitality of town centres. Given that the D5 proposal was shown to affect not just town centres, but arterial shopping areas in Belfast and other parts of north Down, why is his Department so determined to pursue this proposal? It is a proposal which has been thwarted by actions in the court and which is clearly contrary to the Belfast urban area plan and the Belfast harbour plan?
As I said earlier, as regards D5 my Department is seeking the advice of senior counsel in relation to the recent high court decision. Until that advice has been considered, it would be premature for me to make any further comment. I would emphasise that the planning service takes into consideration all aspects of planning — it does not take things lightly. All aspects are fully examined, assessed, professionally tested and a proper decision is taken.