Government hints at tighter planning policy

Hopes of a relaxation in government planning policy were firmly rebuffed at the Retail Week Retail Property Forum last week. More worryingly, a senior Government spokesman said there were good reasons to tighten the screw further.

Consumer spending is still leaking from town centre to out-of-town destinations even though there is virtually no new development there.

Planning Minister Tony McNulty was unable to attend, but he was represented by his senior planner, Michael Bach. Bach is leading the review of the PPG6 guidance note that has been so effective in restricting out-of-town development. He said: 'We will be making it much clearer, but we will not be changing it.'

Bach revealed the revised PPG6 - due as a draft in the spring - will also include a new emphasis on protecting smaller and medium-sized retail centres.

'This is essential to achieve our aims - to revitalise these towns, ensure people can buy a wide range of goods locally, and to avoid the need to travel long distances by car,' he said.

Bach also touched on the issue of commercial property leases, and reiterated the threat of Government legislation if landlords cannot demonstrate that they are taking a more flexible line on lease terms.

'Is the new code really making a difference in the market?' he asked.

'We are getting conflicting accounts. Some say it is simply being ignored, while others say it is gathering momentum. In truth, the jury is still out.'

And he warned: 'The property industry has some 15 months to put its house in order. I would urge both owners and occupiers to use this time to avoid legislation.'