Preferred Options

Ended on the 25th September 2009
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6. Town Centres

Core Strategy Strategic Objective

To support the local economy through supporting the development of suitable land and buildings for retail, leisure and offices uses within or adjoining the town and local centres to meet future needs and ensure their continued vibrancy and viability

SCS Strategic Aim

There is a strong, diverse economy which provides jobs for all

Why is this a Strategic Objective?

6.1 Town centres are at the heart of our communities, providing key destinations for shopping, services, employment and leisure. Their future success and attractiveness can play an important part in ensuring a strong economy, meeting the social and economic needs of the community, supporting more sustainable patterns of development, and reducing the need to travel.

6.2 Warwick District has three main town centres in Leamington Spa, Warwick and Kenilworth, along with a number of local centres within the urban area. Each performs a different, complementary function for the local population and visitors to the area. Leamington is the largest of the district's town centres containing a large number of major high street chains and local independent specialist shops, alongside major offices, civic buildings, leisure and hotel uses, and residential properties. The other two` town centres are much smaller in size and therefore contain a more limited range of shops and services. Warwick town centre is heavily influenced by tourism due its proximity to Warwick Castle, and also contains the offices of Warwickshire County Council. Kenilworth town centre is smaller still but has recently seen improvements with the addition of a Waitrose store which has helped to attract more visitors to the centre.

6.3 It is important that as the District's population grows, the District's town centres grow and redevelop to meet the retail and leisure needs of the area. Failing to meet the needs of the population in the town centres can result in residents making longer journeys to other nearby centres in the region, or to out of centre destinations. Many nearby centres within the region have seen, or are planning, major redevelopments and growth in their shopping and leisure attractions. It is important that the Districts towns compete with these centres in order to ensure their continued success as thriving centres. The recent economic downturn has also highlighted the vulnerability of our town centres to changing economic circumstances and the need to work harder to maintain their attractiveness to retailers and shoppers. These are important challenges for the Core Strategy to address.

Evidence:

Participation

6.4 In response to the public consultation on the "Issues Paper", the majority of respondents considered maintaining and enhancing our town centres was a high priority. They also considered the town centres would benefit from additional housing, shops, offices, car parking and indoor leisure facilities.

Research

6.5 The Council has examined the relative health of Leamington, Warwick and Kenilworth town centres over many years using viability and vitality indicators as a framework for analysis. The evidence for the Core Strategy Preferred Options has been drawn from the more recent Retail and Leisure Study 2009, the Regional Centres Study Update 2007, and the Employment Land Review 2009.

National and Regional Planning Policies

6.6 Relevant national planning policy on town centres is set out in PPS6: Planning for Town Centres. This was published in 2005. PPS6 requires local planning authorities to promote the vitality and viability of town centres through planning positively for their growth and development. This should be undertaken by, amongst other things, assessing the need for further town centre uses and ensuring there is capacity to accommodate them, and focussing development in town centres and planning for their expansion. Wherever possible, growth should be accommodated by more efficient use of land and buildings within existing centres. More specifically, the Core Strategy should set out a spatial vision and strategy for the network and hierarchy its town and local centres. PPS6 is currently being reviewed as part of the draft PPS4: Planning for Prosperous Economies, which was published in May 2009, and provides further guidance on the proposed content of the spatial vision and strategy.

6.7 Regional planning policy within the RSS supports the enhancement of town and district centres to provide services for their local communities, a sense of identity and as a driver for economic growth. Major retail and uses which attract large numbers of people, including leisure and offices, should be directed towards strategic town centres, which include Leamington Spa. Local authorities should develop policies to enable other centres to best meet their local needs.

6.8 The RSS does not include any requirements in terms of future need for retail and other town centre uses. However, the emerging Phase Two Revision RSS recognises that individual centres will need to develop and change to respond to changes in population. It therefore includes indicative requirements for additional comparison retail floorspace for Leamington Spa town centre of 35,000 square metres (gross) to 2021, and 25,000 square metres (gross) from 2021 to 2026.

6.9 These figures are to be tested through the preparation of the Core Strategy and this has been undertaken as part of the Retail and Leisure Study. The projected requirement for additional comparison retail floorspace within Leamington town centre to 2021 is approximately 47,000 square metres (gross), and 14,500 square metres (gross) for the period from 2021 to 2026. These figures show a potentially higher level of floorspace requirements to 2021 and a lower requirement for 2021-2026 reflecting more detailed and up-to-date assumptions about growth in population and expenditure over the entire plan period to 2026. It has to be recognised, however, that forecasts over long time periods such as these are inherently less certain given the assumptions that need to be made about the future pattern of retail spending and should therefore be treated with caution.

6.10 In addition, the emerging Phase Two Revision also includes an indicative requirement for 45,000 square metres of office floorspace (B1a) within or on the edge of Leamington Spa town centre also to be reviewed as part of the Core Strategy process. The Employment Land Review has concluded that there is a need/demand for approximately 160,000 square metres of office floorspace across the District for the period to 2026, of which a proportion would be expected to come forward within or adjoining the town centre of Leamington Spa. The actual amount would be dependent upon the capacity of land and buildings available within or adjoining the town centre.

What are the options?

6.11 National and regional planning policy provides a clear framework for directing retail, leisure, tourism and office growth to the town centres. The role of the Core Strategy is to reflect this framework at the local level through establishing a hierarchy and strategy for the distribution of growth to the town and local centres.

6.12 The realistic options for the Core Strategy therefore relate to defining a hierarchy of centres, and these options are limited by regional policy. The RSS already establishes a hierarchy for the network of centres within the District, which puts Leamington Spa on its own as a 'strategic centre' in regional terms and a focus for major growth. The town centres of Warwick and Kenilworth fall within the next tier down as 'other town centres' where growth should be at a level that best meets local needs and helps them to maintain and enhance their function. Below the town centres, there is a network of local centres or shopping parades where growth should meet more day-to-day needs of the local area. It is not considered an option for the Core Strategy to vary the hierarchy of its centres as set out in regional policy.

6.13 The hierarchy itself and the evidence from the retail and leisure study also limit the options for the overarching strategic policy approach to be taken within the Core Strategy for each of the centres. The role of Leamington Spa town centre as a 'strategic' centre within the region must be promoted and enhanced where appropriate, through major retail growth, appropriate leisure and office development, and other cultural and tourist uses which attract large numbers of people.

6.14 Having regard to the most recent retail and leisure study, Leamington Spa town centre must build on its local distinctiveness, as a high quality shopping and leisure destination with a good choice of multiple and independent specialist operators within an attractive environment. Notwithstanding it is a healthy and vibrant centre, there are signs of underperformance as competing centres have benefited from substantial and more recent developments. The strategic approach must also address the weaknesses in the town centre's offer, particularly in terms of its ability to meet the demands of modern retailers which will help to secure new investment and activity in the centre, and maintain its role as a high quality shopping destination. In that context, the current proposals for Chandos Street are well-suited to address that weakness and meet the need for additional retail floorspace. It is an option for the Core Strategy to recognise the proposal's potential contribution to delivering the Core Strategy through allocating it as a strategic site for development.

6.15 In relation to the role of Warwick town centre, the town has a unique shopping character characterised by a number of independent and specialist retailers, alongside a strong service and commercial tourism and leisure sector, e.g. hotels, cafes and restaurants, associated with the Castle and the historic environment and other attractions of the centre. This is in contrast to Leamington Spa town centre which has a much stronger focus on fashion shopping and the national multiple retailers. This is not surprising given the constrained historic nature of Warwick town centre which has limited opportunities for new purpose-built shops to meet modern retailers requirements. Whilst the town has been successful in maintaining a vibrant centre, the lack of new investment and opportunities, and the proximity of Leamington limits the potential for retail growth. The strategic approach must therefore be to maintain and enhance its role in serving the needs of the residents of Warwick and visitors to the area. The town centre must build on its unique shopping character and local distinctiveness as a destination for tourism and related shopping and leisure activities within an historically significant environment associated with the Castle and the historic streets and buildings. It must therefore exploit and maximise opportunities that become available to enhance the environment and its appeal to visitors through appropriate reuse and redevelopment in order to strengthen its role and provide an alternative offer to nearby Leamington Spa. In this context, proposals for improvement to traffic management within the town centre may provide an opportunity to enhance the environment for visitors and shoppers.

6.16 The strategic approach to Kenilworth town centre must also be to maintain and enhance its function as a vibrant centre serving the needs of the town and its visitors. The centre is currently performing well and the recent redevelopment of Talisman Square, anchored by the Waitrose store, has brought in new investment and increased the attractiveness of the centre as a shopping destination. The increased activity has also helped strengthen the important tourism and leisure role the centre performs. However, Kenilworth does not have the critical mass of retail floorspace to compete with larger centres, such as Leamington or Coventry, and therefore the town centre must focus on building on recent improvements in meeting local and day-to-day shopping needs, with the promotion of a thriving evening economy, and its ability to cater for tourists and visitors needs. In this regard, the strategic approach must exploit opportunities to improve the environment for shoppers and visitors, particularly in relation to traffic management and linkages with other destinations, particularly Kenilworth Castle and nearby Warwick University. The current proposals for a new railway station for Kenilworth would help in this regard and raise the profile of the town centre.

6.17 The strategic approach to the District's local centres will be to strengthen their role by ensuring there is a range of facilities to meet people's day-to-day needs.

Feedback - Options for Town Centres
(132) Do you agree that the Council has identified all reasonable options for Town Centres?
Please explain your response when answering this question.

What is our Preferred Option?

6.18 The Council's Preferred Option for the Core Strategy is therefore to promote the vitality and viability of its town centres through planning positively for their growth and development in accordance with the above hierarchy and strategies for its network of town and local centres. These strategies will then provide a framework for more detailed area action plans to be prepared with the local community and businesses in those centres where significant change or conservation is needed. These plans will identify the distribution of uses and their inter-relationships, including specific site allocations to meet the need for new retail, leisure and office floorspace within the town centres.

Feedback - Preferred Options for Town Centres
(117) Do you agree with the preferred hierarchy and strategy for each of the District's town and local centres?
Please explain your response when answering this question.
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