Policy J/RC: Retail and centres

DRAFT version for various committee meetings.

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What will this policy do?

This policy will cover the treatment of retail, leisure (arts, culture and entertainment) and other city centre proposals in Cambridge, and the towns and villages of South Cambridgeshire, as well as out-of-town development.

Proposed policy direction

We will update our policies regarding retail, leisure (arts, culture and entertainment) and centres to adapt to the changing retail environment but also changes in national planning policy regarding Use Class E which reduce control over changes between certain uses.

The Greater Cambridge Local Plan will:

  • Support the retention of retail and leisure uses with the revitalisation of high streets. This includes encouraging small-scale units, to attract independent shops, leisure activities and small businesses to help diversify and improve the appeal of the high street as well as allowing local communities to meet their day-to-day needs with village shops and services.
  • Seek to develop a specific approach for Cambridge city centre including its shopping centres. These will need to recognise the likely pressure for change. Through development of future guidance, the Council would seek to work through the issues with landowners with the objective of achieving vitality and vibrancy for these important parts of the City.
  • Where planning permission is required, continue to resist the loss of retail or other town centre uses in primary shopping areas where it would undermine the vitality of centres, and require proposals to support the character, safety, and vibrancy of existing centres and village high streets.
  • Establish a hierarchy of centres across Greater Cambridge including rural village shopping areas. Proposals for new and existing shops and related high street services, will be guided towards these centres first, followed by edge of centre locations. If neither of these are locations are available, then out of centre locations will be considered with a preference for those most accessible to a centre.
  • New communities will be required to include new centres of appropriate scales to be created to meet the day to day needs of local communities.

Why is this policy needed?

Town and village centres play an important role in local communities, it is therefore very important to take a positive approach to their growth, management and adaptation. We also need to acknowledge that retail is changing, and our centres will need to adapt.

The Councils commissioned a Retail and Leisure study in September 2019, covering the whole of Greater Cambridge to update our 2013 study. The first part of the updated study involved the development of a baseline position, to analyse the health of each centre as well as travel and expenditure patterns in pre-COVID-19 conditions.

The baseline study concluded Cambridge city centre, for comparison goods (higher value goods bought less often) continues to be the most dominant shopping destination in Greater Cambridge and the wider sub-region. In the context of a falling comparison goods floorspace and growth in population and expenditure to the period 2020, the city’s performance sales density has experienced a strong increase from £7,497 per sq m net in 2013 to £12,539 per sq m net in 2020.

In terms of future policy direction, while Cambridge city centre remains a thriving regional centre providing a wide range of uses including shopping, leisure and tourist related activities, it is important that the centre can evolve in a way that supports changing consumer, retail and leisure habits while retaining its vibrancy and appeal, by continuing to provide for the needs of those living, working and studying in the city.

The Study’s data also demonstrated the important role of smaller local convenience stores throughout the network of village settlements, achieving strong market shares in their location zones. It is therefore important that these village/ rural/ local centres provide people with continued access to a range of shops and services which help them to meet their day-to-day needs. From a social and economic perspective, these services and facilities support community resilience by providing local opportunities for employment, small businesses, social interaction and community cohesion.

The introduction of a new Use Class (Class E – Commercial, Business and Service) into national planning policy means that some use changes can be made potentially without planning permission, such as shops becoming financial services, offices, or even light industrial uses. In some circumstances changes to residential uses is possible through permitted development rights. Our policies will need to adapt to these changes, and we will be looking to do all we can to continue to protect the vibrancy of our centres. This includes considering whether we should apply to government to introduce article 4 directives in certain areas, a process which allows planning authorities to have greater controls over change of use in key areas, but are challenging to secure.

To sustain their vibrancy and vitality of our town centres, new retail should be directed towards new and existing centres. This means out of town development proposals - development outside a new or planned centre – will need to consider their impact on these centres, to ensure they do not undermine their ability to serve their local community.

The Retail and Leisure Study will be updated to accompany the draft Local Plan stage in 2022. This will allow a further period to understand the retail recovery, and its implications for shopping habits.

What consultation have we done on this issue?

Feedback we received through the First Conversation included support for the location of a range of shops, services and facilities in central areas including alternative uses to retail, in response to changing consumer habits. These alternative uses included more leisure, residential and office uses. There remained particular support for allowing more independent retail stores, small retail units and businesses into these areas. Other comments included improving high streets to make them more attractive to visitors and allowing greater flexibility to support tourism.

Objections were raised about allowing the development of out of town shopping areas and to allowing flexibility for changes of use in Cambridge City Centre. These alternative uses could have a detrimental impact on the character of these areas.

In April/May 2021, additional stakeholder engagement with Cambridge’s three shopping centres (Lion Yard, Grand Arcade and the Grafton Centre) was undertaken to better understand their future ambitions including the impact of COVID-19. These discussions highlighted how the city centre will need to adapt to provide a variety of uses, for both day and night-time economies beyond retail such as food, leisure, entertainment, office, hotels, residential. They also highlighted the need for a reactive and flexible planning environment.

What alternatives did we consider?

No policy - not considered a reasonable alternative as the Councils’ consider this policy is needed as the considerations for the different centres along with the shops and services they provide are essential to supporting their long-term vitality and vibrancy.

Supporting evidence studies and topic papers

  • Greater Cambridge Local Plan: Topic paper 6: Jobs
  • Greater Cambridge Retail & Leisure Study: Strand 1 – Baseline Evidence (2021)

Existing policies in adopted 2018 Local Plans

South Cambridgeshire Local Plan 2018

  • Policy E/21: Retail Hierarchy
  • Policy E/22: Applications for New Retail Development
  • Policy E/23: Retailing in the Countryside

Cambridge Local Plan 2018

  • Policy 6: Hierarchy of centres and retail capacity
  • Policy 10: The City Centre
  • Policy 11: Development in the City Centre Primary Shopping Area
  • Policy 72: Development and change of use in district, local and neighbourhood centres

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