Planning change thwarts shops development

TOM STEVENSON

Deputy City Editor

Government policy is adding to the problems of Britain's retailers, which are already struggling to combat still dwindling consumer confidence, according to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

Findings of a RICS property survey suggest that shop owners are finding it increasingly hard to maximise sales by moving to better locations, thanks to changes in government planning policy which are making popular out-of-town sites more and more scarce.

Those findings are part of the RICS's quarterly commercial property survey, which tracks demand for shops, a strong indicator of confidence, and analyses differences between in-town high streets and newer out-of-town centres.

A balance of only 4 per cent of the chartered surveyors questioned said that they were more confident at the end of the three months to September than they were during the summer. The survey covers a period when retail sales volumes declined for the first time since June 1992.

Graham Chase, commercial property spokesman for the RICS, said: "Retailers have found it increasingly difficult to sell goods. Consumers are saving, not spending, and credit cards are staying in their wallets. This is not surprising with people worried about job security and the depressed housing market, which are closely linked to consumer spending."

Even retailers that were doing relatively well were being thwarted by government planning policy, which has turned sharply against out-of town retail developments, where retailers were increasingly choosing to locate, he said.

The findings chime with recent comments from Hillier Parker, the property agent, which pointed to a dramatic drop in development activity of shopping centres following the onset of recession. Interest has increased recently but because of the lagged nature of development, completion levels are unlikely to lift markedly until later in the decade.

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