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Scottish Planning Policy 8: SPP8: Town Centres and Retailing



9. In order to deliver the requirements of the key policy objectives, stakeholders should focus on the policy principles listed in Box 2. Further information on implementing each of these principles is detailed in the appropriate section.

Box 2 : Policy Principles

(a) Identifying and promoting town centres as part of a network of centres,

(b) Focusing development in existing town centres by using a sequential approach to development,

(c) Maintaining, improving and developing town centres,

(d) Promoting a safe and attractive environment,

(e) Ensuring that centres are accessible to all sectors of the community.

(f) Regularly monitoring and reviewing their policies.


10. To promote a sustainable approach to development, the Executive encourages the promotion of a network of centres in which the individual role of each centre supports and is supported by the role of other centres. The development plan should identify the network of centres and the role of individual centres within it. The network will, depending on circumstances, include 'town centres', 'commercial centres' and other local centres and may take the form of a hierarchy, ranging from a city centre to a local high street. Where appropriate, the plan may also specify the centre's function, for example, a centre restricted to the sale of bulky goods. In identifying the network, consideration should be given to the broad quantitative and qualitative requirements for all town centre uses.

11. Town centres are more than a concentration of uses, as described previously in paragraph 3 and Box 1. To be identified as a town centre a diverse mix of uses and attributes, including a high level of accessibility, must be provided. This will include uses which are key contributors to the vitality and viability of a particular town centre, as identified in the town centre strategy and / or health check (Further explanation of these terms and their uses are set out at paragraphs 25 and 35 respectively). Consideration should be given to how the uses contribute to the more aspirational qualities of character and identity, which create a sense of place, and further the well-being of communities. Range and quality of shopping, wider economic and social activity in both the day and the evening, integration with residential areas and quality of the environment are key elements in achieving these wider aspirations, rather than a standard approach to retail-led development which can create homogeneous centres.

12. In rural areas, a range of shops and other facilities are provided in small towns, villages and other accessible locations. These locations form an important part of a network as the uses provide vital local community and economic services. Their loss can therefore have a severe impact not only on small settlements but also on the surrounding rural hinterland. As paragraph 9 of SPP 15 3 indicates, planning policy should support the vital role of these centres.

13. The network will provide a context for the assessment of proposals for new development. Investment priority should focus on town centres. Where proposals support a centre's role and function, as identified in development plan policy, there is no requirement to provide a detailed assessment of need. Additionally, investment to maintain and improve commercial centres should be supported where the centres are part of the network and where such investment will not undermine town centres.

14. Networks will change over time. The review of development plans should consider and address any significant change in the role and function of specific centres, rather than changes being driven by individual applications. Changes could involve alterations to the status of existing centres or the identification of new ones, for example in circumstances where deficiencies are identified in the existing network of centres; where there is significant population growth; where accessibility changes; or where there are wider regeneration aims. Such changes should be fully justified in relation to an evidence base in the form of a health check produced using vitality and viability indicators (See section (f)). Where a health check shows that a centre has experienced a sustained decline in overall performance it should not automatically receive protection if a more appropriate and sustainable alternative can be identified.


15. Planning authorities and developers should adopt a sequential approach to selecting sites for all retail and commercial uses, unless guidance in this SPP or the development plan provides for a particular exception. The principles underlying the sequential approach also apply to proposals to expand, or change the use of existing developments, where the proposals are of a scale or form sufficient to change their role and function. The sequential approach requires that locations are considered in the following order (See Box 3):

Box 3 : Sequential Approach

i. Town centre sites;

ii. Edge of town centre sites;

iii. Other commercial centres identified within the development plan;

iv. Out-of-centre sites in locations that are, or can be made, easily accessible by a choice of modes of transport.

16. Application of the sequential approach requires flexibility and realism from planning authorities, developers, owners and occupiers to ensure that different types of retailing, which serve different purposes, are developed in the most appropriate location. Stakeholders should work together to take account of commercial realities in the preparation of the development plan. Planning authorities should be responsive to the needs of town centre uses, identifying sequentially suitable and viable sites with regard to size, location, and availability within a reasonable time period (5 years) and indicating how and when constraints could be resolved. Developers, owners and occupiers should, when identifying and developing sites, have regard not only to their own requirements but be sympathetic to the town setting in terms of format, design and scale. This should include the scope for accommodating the proposed development in a different built form, for adjusting or sub-dividing large proposals in order that their scale might offer a better fit with existing development, and for making use of existing vacant and under-used land or premises.

17. Town Centre: (See Box 1) The delineation of the boundary of a town centre will be dependent on the identification and evaluation of the full range of town centre uses and qualities mentioned above (See paragraph 11). In most cases, this will include the retail core, which consists of the primary and secondary retail areas. Where development for town centre uses is proposed within a town centre, assessment of its impact on the viability of similar uses in that centre will not be necessary.

18. Edge of Town Centre cannot be defined by a precise distance as different centres vary in their size and scale. Generally, edge of town centre should be interpreted as adjacent to the boundary of the town centre but consideration must also be given to the local context, including the function and the character of the site in relation to the town centre as well as the ease of movement between the site and the town centre in terms of physical linkages and barriers, for example paths and roads. It should be within comfortable and easy walking distance of the identified primary retail area of the town centre. Thought should also be given to topography, visual integration, the attractiveness of the experience of accessing the site by different modes and whether transport links allow or deter easy access to the surrounding area.

19. Commercial Centres (See Box 1) which are focussed on particular uses, for example shopping and leisure and which are identified in the development plan as part of the network, could provide a suitable location for development. This will be where their function complements that of other centres within the network.

20. Out-of-Centre locations, for example stand-alone food stores, should be considered only if it can be demonstrated that all town centre, edge of town centre and other commercial centre options have been thoroughly assessed and discounted as unsuitable or unavailable; that development on the scale proposed is appropriate; and that there will be no significant adverse effect on the vitality and viability of existing centres.

21 . Where development proposals in edge of town centre, commercial centre or out-of-centre locations fall outwith the development plan framework, it is for applicants to demonstrate that more central options have been thoroughly assessed and that the impact on existing centres is acceptable. The development should also be subject to assessment against policy set out in SPP 17, Planning for Transport 4.

22. The retailing of space-expansive displays of bulky goods (for example furniture, DIY, carpets, garden and electrical goods) is encouraged in town centres. However, accessible edge of town centre, commercial centre and out-of-centre locations may be considered appropriate, when the location would provide a qualitative benefit to customers. Where possible, such uses should be located together to limit the need to travel between them. The acceptability of food superstores in these locations will depend on the development strategy for the town, which will be informed by recent health checks and the application of other policy principles identified in this SPP.

23. Conditions restricting the sale of certain goods or the format of units, including the development of mezzanine floorspace, should be used where such restrictions are necessary to support the policies and/or the town centre strategy of the development plan. The Planning etc (Scotland) Bill (2006) includes measures to require applications for planning permission for certain increases in gross floor space.


24. Actions to support improvements in town centres and to create distinctive and successful places are encouraged. Improvements range from small scale public realm works to assembly of larger scale development sites which aid regeneration. Achievement of these improvements will require an understanding of a centre's individual strengths, as well as its role within the wider network. Within this context, the use of town centre management techniques in encouraged. Advice is included in PAN 59, Improving Town Centres 5.

25. Town centre strategies are key to the delivery of such improvements. Within the context provided by the statutory development plan, the strategies should provide the more detailed framework which enables action to be realised. Town centre strategies should be informed by up-to-date monitoring and review of town centres, making use of health checks. To aid wider understanding, a more consistent approach to strategy development should be adopted. Each strategy should be developed in co-ordination with other strategies, for example the community plan, and transport and economic strategies, deriving maximum benefit from early involvement and joint working with interested stakeholders. These will include: local communities; representatives from both the public and private sectors (for example other relevant local authority departments and retailers, businesses and consultancies); and voluntary organisations. This will enable development of proposals which better reflect the priorities of the range of different interests.

26. The strategies should: indicate the capacity for change through redevelopment, renewal, alternative uses and diversification based on an analysis of the centre's role and function; consider the constraints to their implementation, for example diversity in site ownership, unit size and funding availability; and recognise the rapidly changing nature of retail formats. They should identify clear actions, tools and delivery mechanisms to overcome these constraints, for example improved management, Business Improvement Districts 6 or the use of compulsory purchase powers. The strategy should then promote new opportunities for development, using master planning and design exercises taking account of historic and conservation considerations where necessary. Early consideration of the potential to reduce impacts on the environment is also encouraged, for example using sustainable urban drainage systems 7 and communal systems of combined heat and power. Finally, it should include a monitoring exercise to link back to the health check and to examine the extent to which it resulted in the actual delivery and implementation of an improved town centre environment. Updated guidance on town centre strategies will be published in the future in the form of a Planning Advice Note.


27. It is essential that town centres provide a high-quality, inclusive and safe environment if they are to remain attractive and competitive. Well-designed public spaces and buildings, which are fit for purpose, comfortable, safe, attractive, accessible, energy efficient and durable can improve the health, vitality and economic potential of town centres. The Scottish Executive attaches priority to securing high design standards in all new development and development plan policies and individual proposals should reflect Executive policy and advice on design 8. The design of all proposals, including landscaping, parking provision, and changes to the public realm, streetscape and open space, should take account of the local environment. Designs which fail to integrate the development with its surroundings, because of scale, materials and appearance, and those which fail to create effective links with the surrounding urban fabric, should be refused planning permission. Discussion of development proposals with Architecture+Design Scotland is encouraged at an early stage (see SPP 20 8).

28. The promotion of mixed use, higher density development in town centres is encouraged. It may also be applicable to improvements and extensions to out-of-centre locations. This could take the form of vertical integration, for example incorporating residential development, or as horizontal integration, where town centre uses are located beside complementary uses such as office developments.

29. Encouragement and appropriate management of the evening economy is supported in appropriate centres to ensure life and activity outwith usual retail hours. When preparing policies and deciding applications, planning authorities should consider the scale of the developments and their likely impact, including cumulative impact on the character and function of the centre, the amenities of nearby residents, and anti-social behaviour and crime 9.


30. All retail, leisure and related developments are required to provide a high degree of accessibility, by a range of modes including public transport. They should be located close to existing access networks that have potential to accommodate higher density development, or where accessibility can be improved by developer or public funding. Where transport improvements are necessary these should be in place before developments begin operation. Policy and guidance on planning for transport can be found in SPP 17, PAN 75, PAN 66 and 'Transport Assessment and Implementation: A Guide' 10.

31. Accessibility for people and the delivery of goods is essential to the success of a town centre. The perception of convenience is also a key element, for example whether a location is in close proximity to a person's home or place of work and the easy availability of short-term parking. A mix of uses enhances the likelihood of multi-purpose journeys.

32. Access is also a key element of the wider social justice and health improvement agendas. Town and commercial centres should be accessible at all times to all sectors of the community and include the appropriate provision of facilities for disabled people 11. Particular attention should be made to making the approach to buildings and the buildings themselves easy to use for as wide a range of people as possible. Discussion of development proposals with the local Building Standards Department and the Access Officer is encouraged.

33. Wider economic advantages are also important, for example access to employment and training opportunities and a whole range of goods and services such as healthcare and education. In addition, adequate access to fresh food is a significant contributor to the health and well-being of communities. Retail, leisure and other developments, including decentralised local facilities, where they form part of an interconnected network of centres, may therefore have a role to play in the process of regeneration.


34. Monitoring is essential to the effective planning and management of town centres. Regular review of the network of centres, development activity and a town centre's performance are all parts of this monitoring process. Keeping stakeholders informed of the results of monitoring and review exercises will enable a more proactive approach to development.

35. A health check is the appropriate monitoring tool to measure the strengths and weaknesses of a town centre and to analyse the factors which contribute to its vitality and viability. Vitality is a measure of how lively and busy a town centre is and viability is a measure of its capacity to attract ongoing investment, for maintenance, improvement and adaptation to changing needs. Together these measures give an indication of the health of a town centre and, when used consistently over a period of time, can demonstrate changes in performance that can inform future decision making. A range of key performance indicators can be used to provide an effective insight into the performance of a centre and so offer a framework for assessing vitality and viability to assist decision makers in identifying new opportunities for improvement. Box 4 provides examples of widely accepted indicators. Updated guidance on town centre health checks and vitality and viability indicators will be published in the future in the form of a Planning Advice Note.

Box 4 : Examples of Vitality and Viability Indicators 12

  • Pedestrian flow (footfall) measures the numbers and movement of people on the streets. Counts should be collected on a consistent basis over a period of time, at different locations and times.
  • Prime rental values provide a measure of the relative position of locations or streets within a centre and give an indication of retailer desire to locate within an area.
  • Space in use for different town centre functions and how it has
  • changed.
  • Retailer representation and intentions: national multiples and independents.
  • Commercial yield. Although a valuable indicator of retail viability, it needs to be used with care as, in part, it reflects a developer's, rather than a retailer's, interest in locating in an area.
  • Vacancy rates, particularly street level vacancy in prime retail areas.
  • Physical structure of the centre, including opportunities and constraints, and its accessibility.
  • Periodic surveys of consumers.
  • Crime - co-operation with the local police Architectural Liaison Service can assist in identifying persistent or potential problems in an area.