The shops come back to town

The giant shopping mall on the ring road has had its day, writes Mark Rowe

IT LOOKS like an obscure food additive number, but PPG6, the Government's planning policy guide for where shopping centres should be built, is quietly altering the countryside and cities in which we live.

PPG6 instructs town halls in England to favour plans to build shopping centres in city centres and only as a last resort approve proposals for out-of-town shopping centres. In effect, it has put a moratorium on shopping malls similar to Gateshead's MetroCentre, Sheffield's Meadowhall and the Lakeside near Grays, Essex being built.

Instead, the developers, thwarted by PPG6, are looking to build again within town centres. Last week, chartered surveyors Hillier Parker announced there were 17 town centres shopping schemes scheduled to be built by the end of the year, as opposed to four out-of-town complexes.

The move into town is in marked contrast to the latter part of the 1980s, when conservationists and countryside campaigners warned that a glut of out-of-town shopping centres would ruin rural Britain. The slowdown in shopping mall development was boosted by the PPG6 guideline which was introduced by John Gummer when he was Environment Secretary in June 1996.

But throughout this decade, permission for out-of-town shopping complexes has become increasingly difficult and expensive to obtain. No major out- of-town shopping centres have been proposed this decade; all such schemes under construction were proposed during the 1980s. A source at the Department of the Environment said: "Out-of-town centres require the use of cars, they blight the landscape and hit local traders. "

Another reason for the drift back to town centres is the end of the recession, according to David Houghton, who this week is chairing a conference of the British Council of Shopping Centres.

Town councils have played a major role in getting big developers back into towns. "It is in their interests. They have created the conditions for developers by making town centres more attractive, introducing street lighting and making the areas safer," said Mr Houghton.

"Leeds has been subject to a renaissance. Fifteen years ago the city centre was all cars. Now they have a ring road and there are pavement cafes."

Some of the schemes will create cities within cities: the proposed Bull Ring development in Birmingham will stretch to a mighty 1.2 million sq ft though typically they range from 50,000sq ft to 750,000sq ft.

"This shift is exactly what town planners have been looking for," said Dr Brian Raggett of the Royal Town Planning Institute. "It gives people the opportunity to use their city and it will generally increase the use of public transport as opposed to car use."

Merryhill, six miles north of Wolverhampton, has been cited by town planners as a graphic example of the pernicious effect out-of-town complexes can have on local shops. According to Dr Raggett, Merryhill diverted more than one third of trade from the surrounding towns of Dudley, Stourbridge, Wolverhampton and Halesowen.

So far, the Department of Environment has shown little sign of any policy change. Indeed, in line with Mr Gummer's policy, the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, recently refused planning permission for an extension to Merryhill.

In contrast, the amount of floor space proposed for town centre shopping developments is at its highest level since 1991. The image of town centre shopping malls as ghettos of lumpen architecture that become ghost towns at night is in the past, according to Mr Houghton. "There have been some unfortunate designs but now everyone is design conscious."

But building shopping malls in town centres requires a co-ordinated approach he said. "The towns must have the infrastructure to support the development. You can't cram too much in. There must also be a consideration of historic buildings; you don't have a multi-storey car park built next to a cathedral."

The European Commission has also joined the effort to revive town centres hit by out-of- town development. It has provided some pounds 600,000 for a two-year initiative in north London aimed at helping traders to meet change and to improve competitiveness.

The Borough of Barnet in north London has seen local traders' profits hit with the development of Brent Cross on the nearby North Circular ring- road and Lakeside, a 30-minute drive away. The scheme has a budget of pounds 1.45m and targets 11 shopping centres in Barnet and four in Enfield.

In Barnet the council has given the scheme support with a separate pounds 1m scheme to improve shopping centres. Another beneficiary is neighbouring Haringey, where the council has been granted pounds 225,000 for the revival of Wood Green shopping centre.

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
Life and Style
Researchers have said it could take only two questions to identify a problem with alcohol
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Duncan Campbell's hour-long film 'It for Others'
Turner Prize 2014
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hadley in a scene from ‘Soul Boys Of The Western World’
musicSpandau Ballet are back together - on stage and screen
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'
tvCilla review: A poignant ending to mini-series
Life and Style
Bearing up: Sebastian Flyte with his teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited
lifePhilippa Perry explains why a third of students take a bear to uni
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Alan Sugar appearing in a shot from Apprentice which was used in a Cassette Boy mashup
artsA judge will rule if pieces are funny enough to be classed as parodies
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Teacher Plymouth

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: ***KS1 & KS2 Teach...

Primary Teacher Cornwall

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: ***KS1 & KS2 Teachers ...

LSA (afterschool club) vacancy in Newport

£40 per day + Travel Scheme : Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job: Our client ...

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style