Tuesday, 15 July 2008

PPS6 Consultation and what Councils need to remember!

The Government is carrying out a consultation about the future shape of PPS6, the guidance to planning authorities about planning town centres and other retail areas. This is one of the most important pieces of Government regulation in the development of town centres and it therefore justifies a few minutes of the time of those businesses who are often the most badly affected by local planning issues - SME retailers.

I have argued for a long time that SME Retailers are disadvantaged in terms of the influence that they bring to bear on local planning issues, far less than their larger counterparts, and one reason for this is that too many SME retailers fail to look beyond their doors for things that may influence their business until it is too late to do anything about it. Well, here is an opportunity to redress that imbalance just a little!

Take the time to visit www.communities.gov.uk/pps6consultation and have your say. Personally I am fully in favour of the removal of the 'needs' test which produced unintended consequences that served to disadvantage sectors, especially SME retailers. I am also in favour of the introduction of an impact assessment; however, unless the issues of disadvantage in the exercise of the power of influence are addressed, and the SME sector is effectively consulted on town centre planning strategies, then this too will have unintended consequences.

Another factor that seems to act as a barrier to effective communication is the view held by many local authorities that SME retailers are just too disparate a group and it is costly and time consuming to communicate with them on detailed issues - meetings of local traders simply cannot cope with detail. Local Planning Authorities then need to be mindful that one of the major factors differentiating these businesses with those of the much larger competition on the High Street is that the SME retailer has most likely committed 100% of their investment in their site and in their town and that their capital circulates locally - the same cannot be said of the more common fascias who are commonly committed to the competing towns too! This fact deserves some reciprocal commitment from the local authority. It would, of course, be foolish to believe that the local authority would be able to consult with all the local SME businesses, but then they do not consult with all the major fascias either - there is usually a small group of locally influential players and very often this will include M&S, Debenhams, Boots, and others of a similar status in the High Street. It is essential to my mind to ensure that an articulate champion of the SME retailers, who is up to date with the concerns and the issues affecting the SME sector in the town is consulted and as involved with the processes as those previously mentioned are.

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