Lord Falconer – 2001 Speech to the British Retail Consortium


Below is the text of the speech made by Lord Falconer to the British Retail Consortium on 27th November 2001.

Thank you for that kind introduction.

The retail industry is vital to the national economy. This morning I was in Eccles to open the new town centre and new transport interchange. The interchange helps link people to the centre. The importance of retail to the region is obvious. It’s a key sector, a major employer and an indicator of public confidence.

We in government appreciate your role.

We need your investment and innovation to help regenerate our towns, cities and local centres.

We need your help to deliver the urban renaissance.

And we need your help in tackling social exclusion by bringing shopping choice to communities.

We want to encourage the right development in the right place. We want you to develop and expand stores in town centres.

Investing in town centres and neighbourhood centres, providing good jobs for local people and creating confidence in the future – these are good for business and good for communities.

Changing the Planning System

As retailers you know how you are doing – your customers tell you.

You are our customers as far as the planning system goes. And you’re telling us that it’s not going well at present. That’s in terms of the process rather than the policy.

What do you want? As Terry Leahy put it at the CBI Planning Conference – certainty, consistency and transparency. But you’re not getting it.

Take development plans – they should deliver certainty. Since 1991 applications are supposed to be decided in line with the plan, unless there are good reasons not to. And all local authorities should have up-to-date plans.

Ten years on more than 10% of authorities still have no plan at all and nearly 40% of plans are out of date. Without up-to-date plans you have to rely on Government guidance.

In the retail field you have PPG6. It says plans should lead – providing positive guidance to retailers where to invest, allocating and helping assemble sites.

But today’s plans are often reactive – simply reasons for saying “no”.

The big uncertainty is not just what the decision will be, but how long the decision will take.

Complicated applications like major town centre shopping schemes take longer. Nobody’s suggesting the same time-scale for all applications.

But planning authorities need to ensure that larger, more complicated applications get sufficient resources. Some authorities lack resources and skills. This leads to delay. And delay costs money.

Another source of delay and uncertainty is planning obligations. The amount to be paid by developers and how it is resolved lacks clarity and certainty. And negotiations take too long.


So what’s the solution?

You need greater certainty and a better service. You need to know the vision and strategy for town centres – developed with help from business and the community.

And you need to know where development will be encouraged.

We see town centres as places where the action will be.

We must change the culture of planning – we want positive planning – planning for development.

We want a system that is predictable.

And it has to be accessible. Both business and the community must be actively involved.


We will address the problem of complicated, out-of-date and contradictory plans.

We need a local planning framework that can be put in place quickly and kept up to date. We need to focus more on places that are changing. Like town centres.

We also need to simplify planning guidance, to focus on those things that are of national and regional significance.

We know PPG6 could be improved. We are reviewing its effectiveness in promoting retail investment in city, town, district and local centres. We are not proposing to change the policy, but to express it more clearly. Because clarity and certainty are vital in the planning field.

To give you greater certainty, we need clear, unambiguous policy guidance and to apply it firmly and consistently.

For planning applications, a more focused, user-friendly approach is required.

We will stress the importance of clear procedures, agreed timetables and time limits, so that you know when you will get your decision.

We must promote the importance of good, timely and predictable decisions as vital to the well-being of the community.

Both the Planning Inspectorate, who handle planning appeals, and we in Central Government need to improve our act. The call-in and appeals process creates uncertainty. It needs to be more transparent, more efficient and quicker.

We are also concerned about planning obligations. We know these can hold up development significantly in many cases. We need to streamline the procedure, providing certainty, while ensuring that the community shares in the benefits of development.

Compulsory Purchase

Having positive planning policies and timely decisions is vital. But local authorities can do more to make things happen. Land assembly, through compulsory purchase powers, has an important part to play in town centre renewal, bringing forward brownfield sites and regeneration.

We all know the process is archaic and complex, it takes too long, with too much uncertainty for acquiring authorities, for developers and for those whose land is taken. We are going to take action to put those problems right.

We will soon publish a consultation document setting out proposals for changes to the CPO system. The aim is to ensure that local authorities have adequate powers, to simplify and speed up the procedures, but equally to ensure that those affected and those whose land is taken are properly compensated.

One of the conclusions of our review was that many local authorities have lost the expertise to deal successfully with compulsory purchase orders.

We therefore commissioned a comprehensive manual to guide authorities through the procedures, with examples of good practice.

Therefore, over the next few weeks you are going to see:

– a Green Paper on reforming the planning system;

– a consultation document on new Parliamentary procedures for major infrastructure projects;

– a consultation document about compulsory purchase and compensation;

– new proposals for planning obligations; and

– a consultation paper on use classes.

This is a comprehensive, wholesale, radical look at planning. It will set out how we propose to deliver a fundamentally reformed planning system.

The time is right. Everyone agrees from central government to business to the community that action needs to be taken. We must deliver change.

Town Centre Regeneration

One of the key themes of PPG6 is town centre regeneration – developing a shared vision and strategy, taking a positive approach to planning, working in partnership and committing to the long term.

These are the lessons of our Beacon Council Town Centre Regeneration theme for 2001. Retailers need to be fully engaged in the future of the town centres in which they trade. Where there are genuine partnerships this will be achieved.

Based on the experience of the successful Beacon Councils we will disseminate good practice. Learning from the best will help town and city centres maintain their competitive edge.

We will also work with others to develop good practice. We are co-funding a National Retail Planning Forum good practice guide to improve pedestrian access from arrival points to key attractions in town centres.

Social Inclusion

Developing successful retail businesses in deprived areas is particularly challenging. It is difficult to attract new investment to these areas.

Local communities want a say in their own future. They want a part in developing local retail strategies. This will often mean revitalising local and district centres and attracting investment.

They need to find formats that meet the needs of their communities, not off-the-shelf, “big-bang” solutions. It requires a degree of sensitivity and means working with the community.

Town Centre Management and BIDs

Finally, could I turn to town centre management and ways of funding it.

Town centre management has come of age – over 300 town centres are now managed. But we have not yet delivered a sustainable system of funding.

We all recognise the need for new partnerships to develop and deliver a town centre strategy. But are we all committed to their continuing management?

In a managed shopping centre shops pay rates and service charges to ensure a well-managed operating environment. Why should town centres be different?

That is what Business Improvement Districts are all about. As you know, the Prime Minister has said that we propose to promote BIDs. With your help we will work up the proposal. We want consensus on the best way forward.

But we don’t need to wait for legislation. We want to work with business and property owners to devise equitable methods of funding town centres.

For our part, we will look at what we are putting into town centres and see how that funding can be used more effectively. That is why we have commissioned a cross-cutting review of the public realm.


Let me finish by encouraging you to keep investing in town centres. It is a barometer of your confidence in them as places to trade.

Last year, for the first time since the mid 1980s, more retail floorspace was completed in town centre schemes than in out-of-town shopping centres and retail warehouse parks.

We look to you as partners in a retail-led renaissance. We look to you to help:

– revitalise our town centres; and

– strengthen our local centres as part of our efforts in neighbourhood renewal.

We are pledged to make the system work better for you. To give you certainty and consistency through the planning system.

Ultimately success lies in local partnerships – between business, the local authority and the local community. Let me encourage you to become active partners working to deliver the local vision. Working for a retail-led renaissance.