Waveney Local Plan

Vitality and Viability of Town Centres

215 Southwold Town Centre8.94 Town centres currently face many challenges, particularly competition from the internet and out of centre retail parks. Town centres in Waveney also face tough competition from Norwich which is a regional retail centre. It is therefore critical that the Local Plan protects and enhances the vitality and viability of the District's town centres.

8.95 To help support the vitality and viability of town centres the National Planning Policy Framework states that Local Plans should define the extent of town centres and primary shopping areas, based on a clear definition of primary and secondary frontages in designated centres, and set policies that make clear which uses will be permitted in such locations. Town Centre Boundaries and Primary Shopping Areas are defined by Policy WLP8.18 above. Primary frontages are where most shops are concentrated. Secondary frontages have a greater mix of uses including banks, building societies, estate agents, pre-schools, restaurants and cafes. The Framework also promotes town centres which provide customer choice and a diverse offer of retail and services.

8.96 The Retail and Leisure Needs Assessment (2016) included health checks of all of the District's town centres. The assessment found that overall town centres were performing fairly well although Lowestoft was found to have above average rates of vacant units and was in need of some environmental improvements. The other market towns were also found to be performing well and were popular with local shoppers. Only Bungay had a higher number of vacant units. Southwold was performing extremely well as a tourist attraction although this was leading to issues with lack of car parking, which could undermine its popularity. There was a suggestion that all town centres needed more leisure provision and that their offers could be strengthened with the inclusion of more cafes and restaurants.

8.97 Policy WLP8.19 seeks to control changes of use within town centres and sets out the uses which are appropriate within primary shopping frontages and secondary frontages to maintain the vitality and viability of town centres.

8.98 It is acknowledged that some changes of use can take place without planning permission under the Permitted Development Order 2015 which allows some flexibility of uses within the area (dependent on size, final proposed land use and whether the site is located in a Conservation Area or not). The ability of the Council to control such proposals highlights the need to give particular scrutiny to proposals that continue to require the submission of a planning application. 

Policy WLP8.19 - Vitality and Viability of Town Centres

Primary and Secondary Shopping Frontages are identified on the Policies Map.

Within Primary Shopping Frontages, proposals to change the use of ground floor premises from use classes A1 retail or A3 cafes and restaurants to other uses will only be permitted where:

  • The proposal would not result in a concentration of non A1 or A3 uses in the immediate street frontage;
  • The proposal would not detract from the dominant retail appearance of the street frontage; and
  • The proposal does not involve ground floor C3 residential development or A5 hot food takeaways.

Within Secondary Shopping Frontages, proposals to change the use of ground floor premises from use classes A1, A2, A3, A4, A5, D2 and sui generis leisure uses to other uses will only be permitted where:

  • The proposal would support the vitality and viability of the Town Centre; and
  • The proposal would not result in a concentration of non Town Centre uses in the immediate street frontage.

Neighbourhood Plans can set their own requirements for the mix and use of units within Primary Shopping Frontages and Secondary Shopping Frontages providing the effect of the requirements supports the vitality and viability of the town centre.