West Suffolk Local Plan (Regulation 18) Issues and Options October 2020

Part 2 - local issues

Part 2 - 6. Retail, leisure and wellbeing

6.1. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) underlines the importance of protecting our retail spaces and recognises that town and local centres are at the heart of local communities. It encourages local authorities to create attractive town and local centres and allocate a range of suitable sites in towns and local centres to meet identified need. It also asks local authorities to define a network and hierarchy of town centres which should allow them to grow and provide flexibility to respond to changes in the retail and leisure industries.

6.2. National guidance encourages local planning authorities to "take a leading role in promoting a positive vision" for town and local centres (Planning Practice Guidance PPG). These centres should accommodate a wide range of complementary uses such as residential, employment, office, commercial, leisure/entertainment, healthcare and educational development, arts, culture and tourism which can help support the vitality and viability of the town and local centres.

Implications of the sustainability appraisal (SA) scoping report information

6.3. The SA scoping report identifies the following key sustainability issues:

  • Maintaining and improving the vitality and viability of town, local and retail centres in the district ensuring their continued strong economic performance.
  • The district's aging population could mean that certain existing services and facilities, such as social care, will be placed under additional pressure over the plan period and it will be important that opportunities to enhance community service infrastructure through future development are fully realised.
  • Support good access to existing and planned community infrastructure, including green infrastructure, for new and existing residents, mindful of the potential for community needs to change over time.
  • Locate development in areas that can support accessibility improvements and reduce pockets of deprivation and overcrowding in the district.
  • Significant areas of the district have high levels of people living in overcrowded conditions
  • Improve the physical and mental health and wellbeing of West Suffolk residents and reduce health inequalities across the district and between local communities.
  • Deliver high-quality design and public realm improvements that support local communities, including in reducing fuel poverty and addressing the needs of an ageing population.

Issues for the local plan

Maintaining the vitality and viability of our towns and local centres

6.4. The nature of retailing and character of some of our town centres has changed significantly during the last decade due to a number of factors including: changing shopping habits, particularly internet shopping; increases in business rates and rent levels on some town centre premises leading to vacant units; the rise in number of restaurants and cafes, the location of non-retail services such as gyms in town centres, and evening activities such as restaurants, cinemas and clubs collectively known as the evening economy. These changes have meant our high streets and town centres are having to become more flexible and adapt to meet a greater range of needs.

6.5. We have a wide range of towns and larger settlements across West Suffolk that provide services to meet the day to day needs of their communities, as well as those of the wider area. Our main towns, Brandon, Bury St Edmunds, Haverhill, Mildenhall, and Newmarket, and the smaller market town of Clare, have different characteristics and a varied selection of shops and town centre services. These centres are the heart of the town providing for shopping, leisure, business, arts, cultural and tourism activities, and which meets the needs of the town and surrounding settlements as well as attracting visitors from further afield.

6.6. Local centres fulfil an important role. Whilst smaller in size than town centres, they provide a good range of retail, community facilities (including health, education and cultural) and leisure services that meet local needs as well as the immediately surrounding villages. A Retail and Leisure Study was carried out in 2016 for the former Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury areas which included an audit of the town centres in the towns named above, as well as an audit of the local centres within Clare, Lakenheath and Red Lodge. We will update the evidence we have to determine our retail and other town centre needs over the plan period.

Providing strong neighbourhood centres and community facilities to meet communities’ needs

6.7. Neighbourhood centres meet the day to day needs of residents. These centres can offer a wide range of facilities across the district, although smaller and more rural settlements often have limited facilities and so residents will need to travel elsewhere. These centres are a vital part of the community and should be protected.

Abbeygate Street, Bury St Edmunds (2019)
Abbeygate Street, Bury St Edmunds (2019)

Providing good access to open space, sports and recreation facilities to support wellbeing and education

6.8. Open space and recreational facilities can provide opportunities to enable and support a more active lifestyle and can greatly improve the quality of life and wellbeing for local residents and improve the environment as well as attracting visitors from a much wider catchment area. The council believe it is important to ensure residents have safe and easy access to open space, sports and recreational facilities.

6.9. There is a good range of green or open spaces within West Suffolk and accessibility to open, natural and recreational spaces can be enhanced through new development.

6.10. Promoting health and well-being is also covered by other sections in this plan, including housing, transport, supporting our rural communities and the natural and historic environment.

 Abbey Gardens, Bury St Edmunds (2019)
Abbey Gardens, Bury St Edmunds (2019)