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Planning Policy: Retail Sector

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Environment – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 13th October 2015.

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Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:00 pm, 13th October 2015

I recognise that our high streets continue to face difficult challenges. Whilst the planning system is not the panacea, I believe that it has a key role to play in allowing town centres the opportunity to retain and develop their retail base. The strategic planning policy statement (SPPS) that I published last month furthers that belief. It introduces new strategic planning policy to assist with supporting and sustaining vibrant town centres across the North through the promotion of established town centres as the appropriate first choice locations of retailing and other complementary functions, consistent with the regional development strategy 2035.

The SPPS recognises the wide range and complexity of issues that influence the development, role, function and success of town centres. It therefore encourages councils to work collaboratively with all relevant stakeholders to inform the preparation of local development plans based on robust and up-to-date evidence. Under the new planning policy framework, councils will define a hierarchy of centres, consider their role and function and develop a strategy for town centres and retailing that must promote town centres first for retail and other main town centre uses. In addition, a sequential approach will have to be adopted, with preference given to town centre sites and then edge-of-centre sites, before consideration is given to out-of-centre sites. Plans will also incorporate a new call-for-sites approach to identify available land to meet retail need.

I consider that more can be done to support town centres and the retail sector. My assessment is that the new strategic policy context and its key features can be a catalyst for facilitating successful, sustainable and attractive town centres.