Tools for a Balanced Town Centre

Planning for a healthy, balanced town centre should be an important strategic aim of any local partnership. When your group is setting out a vision for the future, what sort of businesses and services were there here? Which would 'fit' with your vision and your target markets, the local community and so on?

Part of the challenge is that there is no set template for the 'right' mix. Factors such as customer profiles, market segmentation and your town centre’s position within the region will all need to be considered.

The Localism Act 2011 brings into being an opportunity to develop a Neighbourhood Plan for the central area of your town. Once adopted the plan could carry the same weight as the Local Plan for the wider area. This is a significant tool for shaping the future of your high street and an opportunity which should not be missed, and below we've detailed some of the tools at your disposal. For a more comprehensive outline, please see our guide here.


Local Plans

Each local authority is required to produce a Local Plan for its area to cover a period of at least 15-years. A Local Plan should set out what is intended to happen in the area over the life of the plan, including where and when this will occur and how it will be delivered. It's a great opportunity for your local partnership to get involved with the strategic development and delivery of the Local Plan for your town centre.

Your Local Plan should set out a vision and set of policies to guide new development and future planning application decisions for your town centre. The policies should clearly set out the amount, type and location of new development within your centre, and as such this is an incredibly powerful document to help deliver a balanced, resilient town centre.

Talk to your local authority and register your contact details with their planning policy team to keep informed. There should also be a Local Development Scheme available online, which is a form of timetable for preparing the Local Plan and other planning policy related documents.

The key stages in preparing a Local Plan are:

  • Developing an Evidence Base to identify local characteristics (town centre uses, transport and access, demographic data, physical features) and how they might influence development in the future. Individual centres' issues, problems and challenges should be identified from the evidence gathered and from views from local residents, businesses and other stakeholders

  • Drafting the Local Plan using the evidence base to create a vision for how each town centre could develop. Planning visions should be aspirational but achievable. To deliver the town centre vision the Local Plan should contain a planning strategy which sets out clear planning choices about where development should go. The strategy should set out a strong planning framework for making individual planning application decisions

  • Public Examination into the desirability of the draft Plan. This is the last stage at which you are able to still influence the content of the final plan. To be part of the public examination you must have contacted your local authority and been added to the draft Plan consultation list

  • Adoption: the local authority formally adopts the Local Plan for decision-making purposes

  • Monitoringthe objectives set, what actions need to happen, when and by whom, to deliver the town centre strategy

Local authorities and partnership groups can also use the same process as outlined above to prepare smaller more focused local plan documents. For example, an Area Action Plan or Supplementary Planning Documents, which expand on policies contained within the Local Plan. Supplementary Planning Documents are not subjected to public examination and therefore do not carry the same weight as Local Plan documents. However, they can influence planning application decisions.

Although these more focused local plan and supplementary guidance documents are normally produced by the local authority in consultation with the wider community, local partnership's can take a hands-on role provided they have the support of their local authority. A group of town centre business could therefore encourage their local authority to prepare and put in place an Area Action Plan or Supplementary Planning Document for their town centre. 


Community Infrastructure Levy


The Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) is a new levy that local councils in England can choose to charge on new developments in their area. The charges are set by the local council, based on the size and type of new floor space. The money raised from CIL can be used to support development by funding infrastructure that the council, local community and neighbourhood want. This could include town centre improvements, such as open space, public realm, new or safer road schemes, etc.




Neighbourhood Planning


Neighbourhood Planning gives the community the power to decide where new development should go and what it should look like – this includes town centre development. There are two different tools that can be used:


  • A Neighbourhood Plan, setting policies that are used by the local planning authority when determining planning applications within the area covered by the neighbourhood plan. Once finalised and approved, the neighbourhood plan is given the same decision-making weight as a Local Plan. Planning applications are therefore determined in accordance with the neighbourhood plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise.

  • Neighbourhood Development Order, able to grant planning permission for specified developments in a neighbourhood area, meaning no-one would have to apply for planning permission if it is for the type of development covered by the order. For example, if you wanted more houses above the shops in your town centre, there would be no need for planning permission for people wanting to develop residential accommodation.


There are two types of organisations who quality to undertake neighbourhood planning, one is a parish or town council, and the other is a Neighbourhood Forum. This is a local partnership organisation led by local businesses and/or residents, who lead the neighbourhood planning process. You need to apply to the relevant local authority to become a Neighbourhood Forum and you must include a minimum of 21 individuals who either live, work, or are elected to represent that area in question.