Curbs on shopping centres to save towns

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The Government signalled the possible end of the development of new out- of-town shopping complexes yesterday when it unveiled a stringent set of planning guidelines designed to protect Britain's town centres.

The guidelines are intended to make it more difficult for developers to gain planning consent for edge-of-town and out- of-town schemes unless town centre options have been explored first. Though some campaigners welcomed the new approach, others said it offered too little too late and that the damage to the high street had already been done.

Keith Vaz, Labour MP for Leicester East, said: "This was not a statement. It was an apology for years of neglect by this government of Britain's town and city centres. Over the years we have warned this government time and time again that the pursuit of their planning policies would destroy town centres. They ignored our concerns."

The fresh guidelines were announced by John Gummer, the Secretary of State for the Environment, whose initial guidelines three years ago have had only a marginal effect. The central issue is that developments on the outskirts of cities will only be allowed if more central schemes were not possible. Out-of-town schemes will only be tolerated as a last resort.

Better town-centre designs will be encouraged, with more emphasis on secure, affordable car parking and mixed use developments which include leisure activities as well as shops.

Mr Gummer said: "Cities and towns are the heart of our civilisation and we need their life and vigour for our survival. Towns are where most of our population live, work and shop. It is where we should be encouraging the location of shops, offices, leisure and housing."

The curbs will affect major property developers and the supermarket groups which are engaged in a constant battle with local authorities to build out-of-town superstores.