Policy 2.15 Town centres



A    The Mayor will, and boroughs and other stakeholders should, co-ordinate the development of London’s network of town centres in the context of Map 2.6 and Annex 2 so they provide:

a  the main foci beyond the Central Activities Zone for commercial development and intensification, including residential development

b  the structure for sustaining and improving a competitive choice of goods and services conveniently accessible to all Londoners, particularly by public transport, cycling and walking

c  together with local neighbourhoods, the main foci for most Londoners’ sense of place and local identity within the capital.

Map 2.6 London's town centre network

Map 2.6 London's town centre network

B    Changes to the network including designation of new centres or extension of existing ones where appropriate, should be co-ordinated strategically with relevant planning authorities including those outside London. Identified deficiencies in the network of town centres can be addressed by promoting centres to function at a higher level in the hierarchy or by designating new centres where necessary, giving particular priority to areas with particular needs for regeneration (see Policy 2.14) and better access to services, facilities and employment. Centres with persistent problems of decline may be reclassified at a lower level.

Planning decisions

C    Development proposals and applications for retail to residential permitted development prior approval in town centres should conform with policies 4.7 and 4.8 and:

a  sustain and enhance the vitality and viability of the centre

b  accommodate economic and/or housing growth through intensification and selective expansion in appropriate locations

c  support and enhance the competitiveness, quality and diversity of town centre retail, leisure, employment, arts and cultural, other consumer services and public services

d  be in scale with the centre

e  promote access by public transport, walking and cycling

f  promote safety, security and lifetime neighbourhoods

g  contribute towards an enhanced environment, urban greening, public realm and links to green infrastructure

h  reduce delivery, servicing and road user conflict.

LDF preparation

D    Boroughs should:

a(i) sustain and enhance the vitality and viability of centres in the context of the clauses set out below

a1  ensure that local retail capacity requirements take realistic account of  changes in consumer expenditure and behaviour including the impact of internet and multi-channel shopping within the context of broader strategic assessments of retail need

a2  in light of local and strategic capacity requirements (Policy 4.7), identify town centre boundaries, primary shopping areas, primary and secondary frontages in LDF proposals maps and set out policies for each type of area in the context of Map 2.6 and Annex 2

b  in co-ordination with neighbouring authorities and the Mayor, relate the existing and planned roles of individual centres to the network as a whole to achieve its broader objectives

c  proactively manage the changing roles of centres, especially those with surplus retail and office floorspace, considering the scope for consolidating and strengthening them by encouraging a wider range of services; promoting diversification, particularly through high density, residential led, mixed use re-development; improving environmental quality; facilitating site assembly, including through the Compulsory Purchase process and revising the extent and/or flexibility for non-A1 retail uses in secondary shopping frontage policies

c1 improve Londoners’ access to new and emerging forms of retail provision by realising the potential of the more attractive, generally larger town centres for planned re-development as competitive destinations which provide multi-channel shopping facilities and complementary activities including significant, higher density housing in a high quality environment

c2 actively plan and manage the consolidation and redevelopment of other, mainly medium sized centres and, where relevant other secondary frontages, to secure a sustainable, viable retail offer; a range of non-retail functions to address identified local needs; and significant, higher density housing in a high quality environment  

c3 ensure that neighbourhood and more local centres provide convenient access, especially by foot, to local goods and services needed on a day to day basis; that they enhance the overall attractiveness of local neighbourhoods and serve as foci for local communities; and that surplus commercial capacity is identified and brought forward to meet housing and local community needs, recognising that this process should contribute to strengthening the ‘offer’ of the centre as a whole

d  support and encourage community engagement, town centre management, partnerships and strategies including business improvement districts to promote safety, security, environmental quality and town centre renewal

e  promote the provision of Shopmobility schemes and other measures to improve access to goods and services for older and disabled Londoners.

Supporting text

2.69   London’s town centres are a key spatial priority of the London Plan, providing access to a range of services and enabling all parts of London to make a greater contribution to London’s economic success (see also policies 4.7 and 4.8). A spread of successful town centres across London complements the role of the Central Activities Zone and supports the ‘polycentric’ structure promoted by the European Spatial Development Perspective.

2.70   In outer and inner London, town centres are the most accessible locations on the public transport system and the centres of their communities. They are key locations for a diverse range of activities, including retail, leisure and office space as well as housing, social infrastructure and public open space. They are also key nodes for more effective land use and transport integration, enabling intensification, encouraging walking, cycling and greater use of public transport and fostering social inclusivity, especially for the substantial numbers of London households who do not have access to a car. Improved accessibility, particularly by public transport, cycling and walking will underpin their competitiveness and their contribution to Londoners’ quality of life. They can also provide key focal points in regeneration policies and initiatives.

2.71   It may be appropriate to designate new town centres, particularly in opportunity areas identified for significant levels of mixed use development including town centre uses such as retail or leisure. These can offer sustainable locations for new development and fulfil the objectives set out in paragraph A of Policy 2.15. New town centres that complement the existing network of centres can serve areas of existing deficiency as well as meeting demand generated by new growth.

2.72   A wide range of uses will enhance the vitality and viability of town centres. Leisure uses contribute to London’s evening economy and ensure that town centres remain lively beyond shopping hours. So too does more and higher density housing, which can capitalise on their public transport accessibility, enhance footfall, vitality and viability and lever in resources for comprehensive town centre renewal as part of mixed use redevelopment and expansion. In some centres, there is scope to redevelop or convert redundant offices (see Policy 4.2) or under-used space above shops into more active uses, especially housing. The impact of government’s liberalisation of permitted development rights for changes of use from offices to residential outside exempted areas (see paragraph 4.13A) will be monitored by the GLA in collaboration with boroughs.

2.72A   Particular care should be taken in the location, design and management of housing, especially in relation to night time activities. Agglomeration of activities in town centres will make them more economically sustainable, attractive for investors and consumers and more resilient to challenges from existing out of centre retail locations. Town centres should also provide a range of civic services and facilities such as accessible public toilets, affordable childcare facilities, police shops and Shopmobility schemes. Sensitive town centre management, including business improvement districts in appropriate locations, should seek to resolve any tensions which may result from a varied mix of uses. However, there may be occasion where it is necessary to manage clusters of uses through planning policy having regard to their positive and negative impacts on town centre vitality and other objectives in this Plan (see Policy 4.8). Finally, strong emphasis should be placed on improvements to the public realm and security to enhance their attractiveness and reinforce their identities. The Mayor’s Economic Development and Transport strategies also reflect the priority he attaches to the rejuvenation of town centres.

2.72B   The Mary Portas review[1], government’s response to it[2], the reports of the Outer London Commission[3] and independent research[4] have all highlighted the long term challenges facing different aspects of conventional retailing and the implications of these for traditional town centres, though London’s unique scale, density, wealth and modal mix may to some extent mitigate their impact. However, coupled with a contraction in the forecast level of growth in overall comparison goods floorspace need to 2036[5], they will still have an effect. To sustain the broader social and economic roles of town centres and to provide Londoners with access to new and emerging retail opportunities, it is therefore important that the town centre network as a whole is managed in ways which enable its different components to address these challenges as well as providing an opportunity to improve the town centre environment and enhance centres’ attractiveness as the foci of community life and for business activity.

2.72C   Across the capital as a whole, growth in the requirement for additional floorspace may contract relative to historic expectations. However, beneath this headline figure the changing shopping habits and expectations of London’s expanding and dense population are likely to give rise to significant demand for modern, more efficient forms of retailing. As far as possible, this should be met through redevelopment of existing capacity, largely within or on the edge of town centres.

2.72D   The Outer London Commission[6] suggests that in broad terms the impact of internet and multi-channel shopping could have a positive effect on attractive, mostly larger centres (most Metropolitan and some Major centres), where the projected, albeit more limited, quantum of growth in comparison goods floorspace is likely to be concentrated. At the other end of the spectrum, smaller centres (Neighbourhood and more local centres) are best placed to meet the continuing need for convenience goods and services, though the strengths of some of these should be consolidated to enable them to function more effectively. The medium sized centres (many Districts and some Majors) are thought likely to face the greatest challenge from changing consumer behaviour and requirements. There could however be local exceptions to these broad trends where medium sized and smaller centres develop specialist attractions of more than local significance.

2.72E With sensitive, integrated planning, addressing the pressing need for additional housing (See Policy 3.3) can also help to tackle the retail related issues facing town centres through:

  • investment in high density housing in the larger centres to augment investment in new forms of retailing and complementary activities and enable their large scale redevelopment as attractive shopping/leisure/service based destinations with an extensive reach/catchment
  • high density, housing led, mixed use redevelopment in medium sized centres  to provide modern premises for those retail and leisure activities which remain viable, or for essential civic and community based services, again improving the attractiveness of these centres
  • a lighter touch approach in Neighbourhood and more local centres to sustain and improve their convenience offer while supporting redevelopment of surplus units for housing.

2.72F  These changes should be introduced through LDFs. Subject to strategically coordinated, realistic assessments of the need for new retail capacity, boroughs are best placed to put them into effect, though there will be a requirement for more direct, strategic input to coordinate the development of larger centres in accommodating new forms of retailing with cross-border impacts.  In all centres with good public transport, the residential element of mixed use development is likely to have scope to go towards the top of the relevant density range. The Housing SPG provides guidance on the exceptional circumstances in which these ranges can be exceeded. These higher density developments will be particularly suitable in addressing the growing housing requirements of different types of smaller households including some older Londoners, as well as specialist needs such as those of students. Larger scale investment in the covenanted private rented sector may be particularly appropriate in bringing this housing forward.

2.72G  In all cases, there will be a premium on creating high quality environments attractive to the changing mix of uses. This will require innovative design solutions which should take into account the policies in Chapter 5 and 7.  It will also mean that the redevelopment process must be closely integrated with investment in supporting social, environmental and physical infrastructure. In addition it will need close coordination between the London Enterprise Panel, Transport for London, boroughs, land owners, occupiers and other partners. Taking into account viability considerations, it will be important to ensure an adequate supply of floorspace affordable to a range of community uses and smaller enterprises in maintaining and enhancing the social and economic offer of town centres. Site assembly could well be a challenge and require use of the Compulsory Purchase process.

2.72H  When considering applications for ‘prior approval’ for conversion of individual retail units to housing, boroughs should take into account the flexibility in government criteria to ensure that the substantial increment to housing provision which is anticipated from mixed use, comprehensive town centre redevelopment is not compromised. This will require consistent interpretation of ‘key shopping areas’[7] as meaning those parts of town centres defined in Local Plans as primary shopping areas, primary and secondary frontages, and neighbourhood and more local centres (Policy 2.15Da2 and c3).

2.73   The Plan’s town centre policies are still intended to provide Londoners with convenient and sustainable access to the widest range of competitively priced goods and services. It therefore provides a framework to co-ordinate the changing roles of individual centres, guiding evolution of the network as a whole toward this end. Each level in the network has different, complementary and sometimes specialist roles to play in this process, for example in arts, culture, entertainment and night time economic activity (see Annex 2).

2.74   The current role of town centres should be tested through regular town centre ‘health checks’. This process should ensure that the network is sufficiently flexible to accommodate change in the role of centres and their relationships to one another. Centres can be reclassified and, where appropriate, new centres designated, in the light of these through subsequent reviews or alterations to this plan and DPDs. Changes to the upper tiers in the network (Major and above) should be co-ordinated first through this Plan.

2.75   Annex 2 provides strategic guidance on policy directions for individual town centres, including their potential for growth. It has been informed by the latest Londonwide retail need study[8], town centre health checks[9], the 2012 office policy review[10] and collaborative work with the boroughs and Outer London Commission. Potential future changes to the categorisations of centres within the network (subject to implementation and planning approvals), together with the roles of other centres in the regeneration process are set out in Annex 2. Boroughs should identify and promote the complementary offers of the other smaller centres in the network including neighbourhood centres and local shopping parades. These play a key role in meeting ‘walk to’, everyday needs and are often the kernel of local ‘Lifetime’ neighbourhoods.

2.76   The Mayor requires a proactive partnership approach to identifying and bringing forward capacity for different types of town centre related uses within or on the edges of centres whilst restraining inappropriate out of centre development (see Policy 4.7). This is the essential complement to Policy 2.15, helping to reinvigorate town centres, widening their roles and offers, developing their identities, enhancing agglomeration benefits and encouraging more sustainable modes of travel.

[1]     Mary Portas. The Portas Review. An independent review into the future of our high streets. DCLG, 2011

[2]     CLG. High streets at the heart of our communities: the Government’s response to the Mary Portas review. DCLG, 2012

[3]     The Outer London Commission. Second Report. GLA, 2012;  The Outer London Commission Third Report. GLA 2014

[4]     Experian Business Strategies. Consumer Expenditure and Comparison Goods Retail Floorspace Need in London. GLA 2013

[5]     Experian Business Strategies 2013 op cit

[6]     Outer London Commission. Third Report. GLA 2014

[7]     See Statutory Instrument 2014 No.564 The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment and Consequential Provisions) (England) Order 2014, section IA.2(1)(b)(iv)(bb)

[8]     Experian Business Strategies. Consumer Expenditure and Comparison Goods Retail Floorspace Need in London. GLA 2013

[9]     Mayor of London. 2013 London Town Centre Health Check Analysis. GLA 2014

[10]    Ramidus Consulting Limited, Roger Tym & Partners. London Office Policy Review 2012. GLA, 2012

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