a) To report progress on the Council’s regeneration projects for Clacton and Dovercourt Town Centres and their implications for policies and proposals in the emerging Local Plan;
b) To suggest possible amendments to the planning policies in the emerging Local Plan relating to town centre uses aimed at allowing a more flexible range of activities in response to the changing role and function of town centres, the decline of traditional retail on the high street and government changes to the Use Classes Order; and
c) To seek the Committee’s agreement for the suggested amendments to be put forward for the Planning Inspector’s consideration when they come to examine Section 2 of the Local Plan in 2020.
The Committee had before it a detailed report (and appendices) of the Corporate Director (Planning and Regeneration) (A.3) which:-
a) reported progress on the Council’s regeneration projects for Clacton and Dovercourt Town Centres and their implications for policies and proposals in the emerging Local Plan;
b) suggested possible amendments to the planning policies in the emerging Local Plan relating to town centre uses aimed at allowing a more flexible range of activities in response to the changing role and function of town centres, the decline of traditional retail on the high street and Government changes to the Use Classes Order; and
c) sought the Committee’s agreement for the suggested amendments to be put forward for the Planning Inspector’s consideration when they come to examine Section 2 of the emerging Local Plan in 2020.
The Chairman invited Bill Marshall to address the Committee:-
Bill Marshall, a resident of the district, made a statement relating to item A.3 and made reference to the Government white paper ‘Fixing our broken Housing Market Feb 2017’, ‘New Town Act 2018’ and ‘Revised Permitted Development Legislation’ and urged the Committee to delay any recommendations until after Section 1 re-examination has taken place.
Members were aware that it was one of the Council’s corporate priorities to maintain vibrant town centres and Clacton and Dovercourt Town Centres in particular had been identified as ‘priority areas for regeneration’ where, due to their complex economic and social challenges, it would be essential to create the conditions for vitality, economic growth and a sustainable long-term future whilst addressing some of the problems and challenges that affected those areas on a day to day basis.
Members were further aware that following a successful application from this Council and its partners, Clacton Town Centre had been shortlisted by the Government as one of 50 town centres across the country to bid for a share of the £1billion ‘Future High Streets Fund’ aimed at delivering transformational changes. Having developed a bold vision for the town centre through a dedicated Clacton Town Centre Working Party, Officers were now working with Government officials, Essex County Council, local businesses and other partners to draw up detailed proposals for key sites in the town centre to be submitted to Government for its consideration in 2020. In the meantime, Officers were progressing a number of short-term actions aimed at improving conditions for town centre trading, including changes to parking and access arrangements, the creation of a purpose-built performance/events area and measures to positively promote the town through the ‘Love Clacton’ brand. Those actions had been approved by the Cabinet in September 2019 with a fund of £250,000 set aside to deliver certain projects with further funding expected from government.
The Committee also recalled that Dovercourt Town Centre was the subject of a new Master Plan that had been approved by the Cabinet in July 2019 and which articulated its own vision for the regeneration and transformation of the town. It included targeted interventions focussed on vacant, derelict and rundown sites and securing improvements to the quality of the public realm. It also included specific development proposals for key sites including the Starlings site and Milton Road car park which had been considered by Cabinet in September 2019 and allocated a fund of £1.6million towards their delivery.
It was reported that in order to ensure that the District’s town centres could adapt in response to the decline in retail on the high street, Officers had reviewed the Council’s planning policies for town centres in light of the work that had been undertaken for Clacton and Dovercourt, the discussions with businesses and key stakeholders, the latest planning guidance contained within the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and recent changes to the ‘Use Classes Order’.
Historically, Government planning policy had been very focussed on supporting growth in the retail sector and promoting the expansion of town centres to accommodate an increasing demand for shops. However, with the rise in online shopping and other services and the need for town centres to take on a more varied and ‘experiential’ function, the 2019 NPPF required planning policies to support the role that town centres play at the heart of local communities, by taking a positive approach to their growth, management and adaptation.
The Committee was informed that the Council’s planning policies for town centres in its emerging Local Plan (Section 2) were already broadly in line with Government thinking, but there remained a strong emphasis on protecting certain areas for traditional A1 retail use – a principle that had been carried forward from previous Local Plans. Notwithstanding the protection afforded to A1 retail use in the Council’s policies, the Government in May 2019 had introduced changes to the ‘Use Classes Order’ which allowed shops in A1 retail use to change to A2 financial and professional services; A3 food and drink; B1 business use; or public libraries, exhibition halls, museums, clinics or health centres on a three-year temporary basis without the need to apply for planning permission.
With those changes in mind, Officers considered that a more flexible approach might now be required to make the town centres more resilient, ensure that the national decline in retail on the high streets did not result in an increase of vacant shop units and to encourage a diverse range of activities, including eating, drinking and community-based activities as well as new residential accommodation, in the interest of vibrancy and vitality.
To achieve the above, it was being recommended by Officers that Policy PP5 in Section 2 of the Council’s emerging Local Plan be amended to remove designated primary and secondary ‘shopping frontages’ which sought primarily to protect A1 retail and were thus in conflict with the thrust of current Government policy.
The amended policy would still however retain a ‘town centre boundary’ where a wide range of ‘town centre uses’ would be encouraged, which, as defined in the NPPF would include:
· Retail development (including warehouse clubs and factory outlet centres);
· leisure, entertainment and more intensive sport and recreation uses (including cinemas, restaurants, drive-through restaurants, bars and pubs, nightclubs, casinos;
· health and fitness centres, indoor bowling centres and bingo halls);
· offices; and arts, culture and tourism development (including theatres, museums, galleries and concert halls, hotels and conference facilities).
It was also suggested that residential development could form part of the mix of uses allowed within town centres in order to support footfall, vibrancy, natural surveillance and security – helping also to support the evening and night time economies.
It was reported that the amended policy would also retain a defined ‘primary shopping area’ within the core of the town centre where the use of property would be restricted to those allowed under the amended Use Classes Order and where residential use would only be permitted on upper floors above shop units. Some flexibility might need to be allowed in respect of parking provision and private amenity space for residential development in such core areas.
The revised wording of the Policy was set out in the Officer’s report and in Appendix 1 thereto.
For Clacton Town Centre specifically, it was also suggested that the boundary of the town centre and the primary shopping area within it (as currently shown on the Local Plan’s policies maps and local maps) be amended, in line with the recommendations of the Clacton Town Centre Working Party, in order to reduce the overall size of the centre, allow more flexibility for residential development to take place on the periphery of the shopping area and to help focus investment in town centre uses on its central core.
Members were aware that the Local Plan had already been submitted to the Secretary of State for it to be examined by a Government-appointed Planning Inspector. The Inspector would however have the power to recommend ‘modifications’ to the Local Plan, following the examination, aimed at addressing any issues with the soundness of the plan. Whilst it would be at the Inspector’s discretion which modifications were formally recommended, the Council would have the opportunity to suggest changes to the Inspector, for their consideration, as part of the examination process. It was therefore the Officers’ recommendation that the changes outlined in the report be put forward to the Inspector for their consideration, at the appropriate time.
Having considered and discussed the information and advice contained within the Officer’s report and its appendices:-
It was moved by Councillor Scott, seconded by Councillor Chapman and unanimously:-
RESOLVED that –
a) the progress of the regeneration projects for Clacton and Dovercourt Town Centres be noted;
b) the latest position in respect of Government policy on town centres, including the National Planning Policy Framework and changes to the Use Classes Order be noted;
c) the suggested amendments to Policy PP5 ‘Town Centre Uses’ and relevant policies and local maps and the specific amendments for Clacton Town Centre in the Tendring District Local Plan 2013-2033 and Beyond: Publication Draft (the emerging Local Plan), as set out in item A.3 of the Report of the Corporate Director (Planning and Regeneration) and Appendix 1 thereto, be approved; and
d) the Head of Planning be authorised to put forward the suggested amendments to Policy PP5 and relevant maps to the Planning Inspector for their consideration as part of the examination of the Section 2 of the emerging Local Plan.