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Policy SD6 Town centres


  1. London’s varied town centres and their vitality and viability should be promoted and enhanced as:
    1. strong, resilient, accessible, inclusive and viable hubs for a diverse range of uses including employment, business space, shopping, culture, leisure, night-time economy, tourism, civic, community, social infrastructure and residential development
    2. locations for mixed-use or housing-led intensification and higher-density renewal, securing a high-quality environment and complementing local character and heritage assets
    3. the structure for delivering sustainable access by walking, cycling and public transport to a competitive range of services and activities
    4. the main focus for Londoners’ sense of place and local identity in the capital
    5. the primary locations for commercial activity beyond the CAZ and important contributors to the local as well as London-wide economy
    6. a key mechanism for building sustainable, healthy, walkable neighbourhoods with the Healthy Streets Approach embedded in their development and management.
  2. The adaptation and restructuring of town centres should be supported in response to the challenges and opportunities presented by multi-channel shopping and changes in technology and consumer behaviour, including improved management of servicing and deliveries.
  3. The potential for new housing within and on the edges of town centres should be realised through higher-density mixed-use or residential development, capitalising on the availability of services within walking and cycling distance, and their current and future accessibility by public transport. Residential-only schemes in town centres may be appropriate outside of primary and secondary shopping frontages where it can be demonstrated that they would not undermine local character and the diverse range of uses required to make a town centre vibrant and viable.
  4. The particular suitability of town centres for smaller households, Build to Rent, older people’s housing and student accommodation should be considered and encouraged.
  5. The redevelopment, change of use and intensification of identified surplus office space to other uses including housing should be supported, taking into account the impact of office to residential permitted development rights (see Policy E1 Offices) and the need for affordable business space (Policy E3 Affordable workspace).
  6. The management of vibrant daytime, evening and night-time activities should be promoted to enhance town centre vitality and viability, having regard to the role of individual centres in the night-time economy (see Figure 7.7 and Table A1.1) and supporting the development of cultural uses and activity.
  7. Tourist infrastructure, attractions and hotels in town centre locations, especially in outer London, should be enhanced and promoted (see Policy E10 Visitor infrastructure).
  8. The delivery of a barrier-free and inclusive town centre environment that meets the needs of all Londoners, including disabled and older Londoners and families with young children, should be provided. This may include Shopmobility schemes, the provision of suitably designed crossing points, dropped kerbs and tactile paving, seating and public toilets.
  9. The provision of social infrastructure should be enhanced, and facilities should be located in places that maximise footfall to surrounding town centre uses.
  10. Safety and security should be improved, and active street frontages should be secured in new development, including where there are ground floor residential frontages.

London’s town centres are central to the lives of Londoners. They provide a focus for the local community, both geographically and in relation to the sense of identity and broad mix of uses they provide. The spaces within and around town centres have an important public function, with high streets, public squares, markets, parks, gardens and other open spaces providing opportunities for people to gather, meet, socialise, and be entertained. Town centres are usually transport hubs, served by rail, tram and bus networks, and are accessible for people walking and cycling. Town centres and high streets have social value, providing access to a range of shops and services, employment opportunities, social contact, and information and support. The agglomeration of town centres gives rise to formal and informal networks of businesses, supply chains, customers, employees, institutions, and volunteers that can provide mutual support, advice and economic benefit. Many town centres in London are of historic interest and contain high concentrations of heritage assets.

Town centres have over the years absorbed change and new technologies. To continue to thrive they will need to evolve and diversify in response to current and future economic trends, technological advances, consumer behaviours, and the development of the 24-hour city. This need for adaptation and diversification, together with their good public transport accessibility, makes many town centres appropriate locations for residential-led or mixed-use high-density development. Bringing new residents into town centres can enhance their commercial role, increasing footfall, particularly to support convenience retail, leisure uses and the evening and night-time economy. Town centres will also need to diversify the range of commercial uses, particularly smaller centres and those with projected decline in demand for retail floorspace. Boroughs and others should ensure their strategies, policies and decisions encourage a broad mix of uses while protecting core retail uses to meet demand.

Retailing has evolved to become multi-channel, with a mix of physical stores, ‘click and collect’ points, direct delivery to homes and workplaces, and showrooms for digital businesses. Overall, household expenditure on retail is projected to rise but this demand will be spread unevenly across London’s town centres, reflecting trends towards the polarisation of retail space towards the larger and stronger centres in London[20]. Approximately 76 per cent of the gross comparison goods retail floorspace requirement is anticipated to be focused in the International, Metropolitan and Major town centres and CAZ frontages, with 11 per cent in District centres[21]. As many as 60 per cent of District centres in London are likely to have surplus comparison goods retail space over the Plan period.

[20] Experian. Consumer Expenditure and Comparison Goods Retail Floorspace Need in London, GLA, 2017

[21] Experian. Consumer Expenditure and Comparison Goods Retail Floorspace Need in London, GLA, 2017

These trends present significant challenges and opportunities for retailing in all town centres and associated high streets including adapting to new innovative forms of retailing, accommodating new space where there is identified demand, and managing the transition of surplus retail floorspace to other uses, such as leisure, business, and more intensive forms of mixed-use development that include a residential component, in appropriate locations. Boroughs and other stakeholders will need to proactively manage their town centres to take account of these trends and the impacts on centres of different types and sizes.