Planning Portal

Planning Strategy for Rural Northern Ireland
Regional Planning Policies: Policy IC 9 Town Centres


In recent years shopping patterns have continued to change as retailers adapt to changing economic conditions and consumer habits. In some retail sectors larger shop units have resulted from efforts to increase efficiency, achieve economies of scale and to widen consumer choice. Constraints in existing town centres along with changes in shopping habits have led to the development of suburban and out-of-town shopping centres, large food superstores and retail warehousing. Many of these developments have made a valuable contribution to the improvement of retail services - in terms of better access and convenience for consumers, choice and value for money. They can, however, lead to increased traffic genera'tion, a loss of trade and investment in neighbouring town centres, and the loss of small local shops which sewed a valuable economic and social function especially for the less mobile members of society.
Change in retailing is expected to continue both in terms of new forms of shopping and the modernisation of existing retail centres. Within the terms of the overall shopping policy, the Department is committed to allowing freedom of choice and flexibility in terms of retail development throughout Northern Ireland and to assist the provision of a wide range of shopping opportunities to which the whole community has access. It is not the function of land use planning to prevent competition among retailers or between methods of retailing, nor to preserve existing commercial interests as such. However, the Department recognises the value and importance of long established shopping areas in town and village centres.
Policy IC 9 Town Centres
This policy has been superseded by: PPS 5-Retailing and Town Centres
PPS 5 is cancelled by the publication of the SPPS
To protect the vitality and viability of established town centres.
Traditionally the Ulster Town, often
with its own market, was the centre of trade and commerce for the population in the surrounding rural area. The commercial town centres still provide important services for town and country. Distinctive town centres also give a sense of identity to the particular urban centre and to Northern Ireland as a whole. An attractive and flourishing town centre can also enhance the quality of life of its citizens, stimulate economic investment and support and encourage a whole range of cultural, social and commercial activity. The location of such uses in central locations, which are normally also the focus of transportation networks, promotes accessibility for a large section of the population.
The Department is therefore committed to protecting the vitality and viability of existing town centres. It will seek to ensure an adequate provision of retailing and related facilities, accessible to the whole community, through the support for and enhancement of established town centres. There will be a presumption in favour of development proposals which would make a positive contribution to ensuring that existing centres continue to provide a focus for shopping activity. Encouragement will be given to new retail development and to the refurbishment, for retail purposes, of existing floorspace. The design of new development should be sympathetic to the character of the centre and to its historic settlement pattern and should make a positive contribution to the environmental quality of the town centre.
A compact and attractive shopping environment is important in that it promotes choice and convenience. The primary retail core of larger towns will, where appropriate, be identified in the relevant development plan. Within core areas, the Department will control non-retail uses at ground floor level. Applications for change of use from retail shop to local services such as building society offices, banks and estate agents or to food uses may be acceptable except where:
  • There would be a significant loss of retail floorspace;
  • A clustering of non-retail uses is created; or
  • The area overall is tending to be dominated by non-retail uses.
Within the secondary shopping areas, proposals for local services offices and food uses will be determined on their merits. In smaller towns, where services and retailing are grouped together within a small core, each case will be determined on the potential impact on the centre.
In order to ensure a compact retail core the increase of retail floorspace through the refurbishment of existing units and sympathetic redevelopment will be encouraged. Outward spread of the retail core will only be permitted where there is clear evidence of need. The area for expansion will normally be defined within the relevant area plan.
The quality of the environment in town centres is of great importance. The Department will where appropriate, and within financial constraints, support proposals for further pedestrianisation, improvement to the physical environment and the provision of a satisfactory level of car parking.
Town centres will also be promoted as the principal locations for office development and appropriate service, cultural and leisure uses. Proposals for such development, or the improvement of existing facilities, will be encouraged where they contribute to the diversity and vitality of activity within each centre without encroaching on prime retail floorspace.
The re-use of vacant floorspace and the location of new uses in vacant and underused upper floors of existing buildings will be encouraged.
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