9.1 The District’s town centres provide the social and economic focus of their communities and it is important that this Plan provides a framework for their vitality and viability to be maintained and enhanced. Local centres within urban neighbourhoods and village shops are of similar importance to their communities. The last ten to fifteen years have seen many changes in retailing, including the growth of regional shopping centres, the growth of out-of-town retail parks, extended opening hours and Sunday trading, and more recently internet shopping. All of these changes have had an effect on existing town and local centres.
9.2 Braintree, Halstead and Witham are classified in the Structure Plan as Principal Town Centres. They do not offer the same amount, or range, of retailing as nearby sub-regional centres such as Colchester, Chelmsford and Lakeside. The town centres in this District rely mainly on convenience shopping and local services to attract people to use them. The larger villages in the District including Coggeshall, Earls Colne, Hatfield Peverel, Kelvedon, Sible Hedingham and Silver End have a range of local shops and services, and some of the smaller villages retain a shop and post office and other services, such as a public house and petrol filling station.
9.3 This Chapter firstly sets out general policies and proposals for the District, and secondly deals with individual settlements.
9.4 The policy context for retailing, town and local centres is provided by PPS6: Planning for Town Centres published in 2005 and the Structure Plan. The key objectives of PPS6 are:
•Promoting the vitality and viability of town centres by:-
- planning for the growth and development of existing centres
- promoting and enhancing existing centres, by focusing development in such centres and encouraging a wide range of services in a good environment accessible to all
• Enhancing consumer choice by making provision for a range of shopping, leisure, tourism and local services, which allow genuine choice to meet the needs of the entire community, and particularly socially excluded groups
• Supporting efficient, competitive and innovative retail, leisure, tourism and other sectors with improving productivity
• Improving accessibility, ensuring that new development is, or will be, accessible and well-served by a choice of means of transport
• To focus development in, and plan for the expansion of existing centres as appropriate
• Promoting town centre management, to create partnerships to develop, maintain and improve town centres and manage the evening and night-time economy
9.5 In the Replacement Structure Plan, Braintree, Halstead and Witham town centres are placed in the second tier of the County’s shopping hierarchy as Principal Town Centres. Policy TCR2 of the Structure Plan sets out the sequential approach to be adopted in determining where proposals for retail and other town centre developments, which attract a large number of people, should be located. Policy TCR3 provides for local planning authorities to support proposals that will strengthen and maintain the role of town centres. Policy TCR4 sets out criteria against which proposals for retail development will be judged. These policies provide a context for, and should be read in conjunction with, the policies and proposals in this Plan.
9.6 In planning for the future of retailing, town centres and local centres the Council is seeking to achieve the following objectives:
- to protect and enhance the pivotal roles of Braintree, Halstead and Witham town centres as the economic, social and cultural foci for the District
- to maintain and enhance the vitality and viability of existing town and local centres
- to protect, conserve and enhance the historic character of town and local centres
- to provide for a range of uses in town centres including retailing, employment, leisure, entertainment, culture, and residential to ensure a vibrant environment both in the daytime and in the evening
- to ensure accessibility by all modes of transport and to provide a level and type of car parking appropriate to support the centres
- to maintain and enhance the appearance and environment of town and local centres and to ensure that they are clean, safe and well lit.
9.7 As indicated above, retailing has seen a number of significant changes in the last ten to fifteen years. To help in planning for the future, the Council commissioned consultants to examine current retailing trends and to advise on a way forward. The consultant’s study included a survey to identify current shopping habits, an examination of the socio-economic characteristics of the District, and an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of, opportunities for and threats to the town centres. The consultant’s report has been published separately. Its recommendations are taken into account when dealing with individual settlements below.
9.8 The anticipated trends in retailing over the plan period are:
- retail concentration, representing the shift of trading from secondary to primary pitch and from independent to multiple traders
- polarisation, with stronger trading performance by regional centres with a full comparison offer either in city centres, or in off-centre locations, at the expense of smaller centres
- consumer preferences primarily in respect of the growing importance of the ‘leisure shop’ undertaken at centres offering an attractive environment and a wide comparison/durable offer. This is combined with the increasing attraction of readily accessible centres with ample, inexpensive and secure car parking and the attraction of a sufficient critical mass of stores open and trading on Sunday, combined with a wide range of leisure and tourist facilities
- the hardening of planning policy to refuse out of centre development proposals and to concentrate all forms of developments, particularly retail and leisure developments, in town centres where advantage can be taken of public transport accessibility furthering the aims of sustainability
9.9 These trends mean that there is likely to be a common pattern of impact on all centres; including the dominance of prime pitch leading to higher vacancies in secondary and tertiary areas; the decline of independent traders and increasing dominance by multiple traders; and an increasing distinction between comparison and convenience shopping destinations.
9.10 As a result, the larger centres will continue to out-perform smaller centres, with those of middle ranking status having the potential to significantly lose trade. Attractive and historic centres are likely to perform better than centres with unpleasant shopping environments.
9.11 Because the District’s town centres do not have a wide range of multiple stores they will face increasing competition from nearby sub-regional centres. If their vitality and viability is to be maintained, it is important that their existing strengths are maintained and that there are policies in place to promote them and increase their attractiveness through environmental improvements and encouraging a wider mix of uses and attractions. General Town Centre Policies
9.12 This section sets out general policies, which will be applied to all of the town centres in the District. These should be read in conjunction with the town centre and retailing policies set out in the Structure Plan, particularly TCR2, 3 and 4.
9.13 As indicated above, national planning guidance now places an emphasis on the sequential approach, with a preference for retail and other town centre uses to be located firstly within town centres, secondly on sites at the edge of town centres, thirdly in district and local centres and finally in out-of- centre sites accessible by all modes of transport. Major retail proposals will be judged against this guidance and Structure Plan policy TCR4 and policies RLP 110 and RLP 111 in this Chapter. In this Plan town centres are Braintree, Witham and Halstead Town Centres. District Centres are the main shopping areas at Coggeshall, Earls Colne, Great Notley, Kelvedon, Maltings Lane, Witham, Masefield Road and Kings Park Village, Braintree, Sible Hedingham and Silver End. All other shopping areas are local centres. In order to assist with the application of these policies, the boundaries of the town centres are defined on the Proposals Map. The town centres cover a wider area than the principal shopping area, as they also include other town centre uses. It will be important for the future vitality of town centres that a variety of uses are accommodated, including leisure uses such as pubs and restaurants, residential, office, entertainment and cultural uses. It is important that both the daytime and evening economies are encouraged.
(Policy superseded 19 September 2011 by Core Strategy Policy CS6 Town Centre Regeneration and Retailing.)
Proposals for retail and other town centre developments, which attract large numbers of people, should be determined on a sequential basis by applying the following descending order of preference. The need or capacity for development will be taken into account in deciding whether it should be accommodated at successively lower levels in the hierarchy:
1 Town centre sites, where suitable sites or buildings suitable for conversion are available, committed or likely to become available in a reasonable period of time.
2 If development cannot be accommodated within a town centre then it should be located on a suitable site on the edge of a town centre.
3 If development cannot be accommodated on a town centre or edge of centre site then it should be located at a district centre. It there are no suitable district centre sites, opportunities at local centres should be considered.
4 If development cannot be accommodated on sites in town centres, edge of centre locations, district or local centres, and there is a demonstrable need for it, out of centre sites elsewhere within the urban area may be considered, provided they are accessible by a choice of means of transport. Within areas of large-scale new housing development, appropriate provision will be made for local shopping and associated service uses, provided this does not undermine the vitality and viability of any nearby town centre, district or local centre.
(Policy superseded 19 September 2011 by Core Strategy Policy CS6 Town Centre Regeneration and Retailing.)
Retail development proposals should:
1 Not individually, or cumulatively with other recent and committed development, materially affect the vitality and viability of any existing town, district, or local centre;
2 Be accessible by a choice of means of transport;
3 Not give rise to unacceptable problems of access, road safety or traffic congestion;
4 Provide car parking and servicing facilities in accordance with the approach set out in RLP 56 and to standards and criteria as set out in Appendix 3, together with facilities for non-car users;
5 Promote high standards of design and not cause unreasonable loss of amenity to adjoining land uses;
6 Not materially prejudice the provision of other major land uses, particularly the supply of land for employment, housing and community uses such as open space.
9.14 Each town centre retains a compact shopping core and it is part of their attractiveness that most shops are within easy reach of each other and from car parks and central bus stops. It is intended that this compactness should be retained and shopping areas are therefore defined on the Proposals Map within which retail uses will be concentrated. Outside of the defined shopping areas, proposals, which will result in sporadic and dispersed retail uses, will be resisted. It is also important that within the shopping areas strong retail frontages are not diluted by non-retail uses such as estate agents, banks and building societies (A2 uses).
9.15 The following policies will be applied to the defined town centre and shopping areas:
The town centres of Braintree, Halstead and Witham are defined on the Proposals Map. These areas will be used as the basis for applying the sequential approach. Within town centres a diverse range and mix of uses will be encouraged. New uses, which by virtue of their character or appearance, or which generate noise and traffic, that would be harmful to the town centre, or would cause unacceptable disturbance to local residents, will not be permitted.
Shopping areas for Braintree, Witham, Halstead and Coggeshall are defined on the Proposals Map. Within these areas retail uses will normally be encouraged. Proposals for retail development outside these areas, will be considered in accordance with the sequential approach set out in Policy RLP 110 .
Policy Applications for A2 uses, within the areas defined below, will be permitted if the following criteria are met:
(a) There should be a balance between retail and non-retail uses and no continuous frontages on non-retail uses.
(b) The premises do not have the benefit of rear servicing.
(c) The frontage is not prominent in the streetscene. Where non-retail uses are permitted, the occupiers will be required to provide and maintain a window display. The areas to which this policy will be applied are:
Braintree - Bank Street, High Street (east of No.74a and Baileys Gant), Great Square, Little Square, Market Street, Market Square, and George Yard.
Witham - Newland Street between Collingwood Road and Guithavon Street, the Newlands Precinct and The Grove Shopping Centre.
9.16 It is important that town centres are accessible by all modes of transport and accessible to all people, including those with special needs, although there can sometimes be perceived conflicts between pedestrianisation and the viability of individual shopping streets. In order to deliver this, PPG13 states local authorities should:
- focus major generators of travel demand in town and district centres and near to public transport interchanges
- give priority to people over traffic in town centres, other areas with a mixture of land uses and local neighbourhoods and consider giving more road space to pedestrians, cyclists and public transport in these locations The following policy will therefore be applied.
The Council will ensure that town centres are accessible both to those with special needs and requirements (including disabled, blind and partially sighted people and pram and cycle access) and by a range of sustainable transport options. Proposals within town centres that will improve these facilities will be encouraged.
9.17 The District’s town centres serve extensive rural catchment areas, where public transport is infrequent, or non-existent. It is important therefore that adequate shoppers’ car parking is available. It is considered that car parking in Braintree and Witham is generally adequate to meet current and anticipated demands. Some additional short stay car parking may be required in Halstead and this is dealt with below. Parking standards and policies are referred to in the Transport Chapter. It is also important that secure cycle parking is available at key locations in town and local centres.
9.18 The upper floors of shops and offices in town centres are often under used. Their use for residential purposes can add to the vitality and viability of town centres, can help with increasing security and can contribute to meeting overall housing requirements. Where use of upper floors for residential uses is not possible, other commercial uses may be considered.
Applications for the residential, or commercial, use of upper floors in the defined shopping area will be encouraged. Applications for uses, which might prejudice or restrict access to upper floors within the defined shopping areas, will normally be resisted.
9.19 The major part of Braintree, Halstead and Witham town centres are included within conservation areas. It is important that any development in the town centre is sympathetic to and enhances the character and appearance of the area. Policies relating to the general principles of development within conservation areas are found in the Design and Heritage Chapter.
9.20 It is particularly important that shopfront design respects the character of conservation areas and policy RLP 117 will be applied. Regard should also be paid to the following supplementary planning guidance, as appropriate:
Shopfronts - Conservation in Essex No.5
Shop Blinds and Awnings
Shop Signs - Signs and Lettering - Conservation in Essex No.6
Where applications are submitted for new shopfronts in conservation areas, the local planning authority will use the following guidelines:
(a) Display windows should be sub-divided into areas which create proportional harmony and relate to the character and features of the building;
(b) Traditional materials should be used wherever possible;
(c) Inappropriate division of the buildings behind their facades will not be permitted;
(d) Where illumination is proposed it should always be provided externally by a maximum of two or three hooded spot lights, or a full length light concealed by a compact hood;
(e) Stall risers should always be provided, they should be between 450mm and 700mm high and have a moulded projecting cill to provide a strong junction with the glass;
(f) Projecting and hanging signs should be non-illuminated and at or just below fascia level.
9.21 In the past ten years there has been an increasing demand for retail warehousing for the sale of bulky non-food goods. These often involve the construction of large showrooms, that cannot be accommodated easily in town centres. The main retail warehousing area in the District is the Braintree Retail Park at Charter Way. Some retail warehousing, up to a maximum of 2.02 hectares in total, is also provided for within the new Maltings Lane Business Park at Witham. No further areas for retail warehousing are proposed in this Plan. Any further proposals will be judged against Structure Plan policy TCR4 and policies RLP 116 and RLP 117.
Retail warehouse development will be permitted within or immediately adjoining, town centres. If no such sites are available, then the sequential approach set out in Structure Plan Policy TCR2 will be applied. In addition proposals will be judged against the following criteria:
(1) The cumulative effect of the proposed development and other recent and proposed large scale development in the locality on the vitality and viability of any nearby shopping centre as a whole;
(2) Development to be confined to the sale of non-food retail products, of a weighty or bulky nature, which could give rise to inconvenience to the public if located within, or adjacent to, town centres, that are proven to be acceptable to retail warehousing and found within established retail warehouse parks;
(3) The physical and environmental capacity of the adjacent road network to accommodate the traffic generated;
(4) The accessibility of the site by all modes of transport and the preparation of a travel plan;
(5) The adequacy of vehicle parking and service arrangements; and
(6) The effect on the amenities of the area
An area at the Braintree Retail Park is allocated for retail warehousing on the Proposals Map. Retail warehousing may also be acceptable within the Maltings Lane Business Park up to a maximum of 2.02 hectares in total. Any proposals within the Braintree Retail Park and Maltings Lane Business Park should comply with the above criteria.
The conversion of existing industrial/warehousing premises to non-food retail warehouses, outside defined retail areas, will be judged against the criteria in Policy RLP 118 and the following additional criteria:
(1) The extent to which the supply of land and premises for industrial use would be adversely affected by the proposal;
(2) The availability of suitable accommodation in defined retail areas;
(3) The availability of alternative sites.
9.22 Of the three towns in the District, Braintree has seen the most significant changes in retailing over the last ten years. There was considerable debate at the last local plan inquiry in 1993 about the future of foodstores in the town. Since then Sainsburys has extended its store in the town centre, Tesco has refurbished its town centre store and opened new neighbourhood stores at Great Notley and at Kings Park Village. There have been other changes in the town centre, with the evening economy strengthened by the conversion of two town centre premises to public houses and refurbishment of others and the introduction of flats above shops. Other improvements have included environmental improvement and part pedestrianisation of the High Street in 1993, the installation of CCTV, the opening of the Manor Street Car Park, the opening of a new library and a new museum.
9.23 In November 1999, the Freeport Factory Outlet Centre opened at Charter Way, adjacent to the Braintree Retail Park. This has improved the range of fashion and comparison shopping available to the town and has drawn back trade previously lost to other centres, such as Chelmsford and Colchester. Early indications are that linked trips between Freeport and the town centre have helped to increase the numbers of people using the town centre. Planning permission for leisure uses at Freeport, including a multiplex cinema, bowling alley, swimming pool and health club and for a limited extension of retail uses was granted in June 2001. Any proposals for further expansion at Freeport will be considered against Structure Plan Policies TCR2 and TCR4. Land immediately to the north of the existing factory outlet centre could be considered for further non-food retail development in the plan period provided that:
- It did not have an adverse impact on Braintree Town Centre and adjacent town centres.
- A green travel plan was provided and approved by the Council.
- It would not involve an unacceptable level of car parking.
- It would not be contrary to Central Government advice and Structure Plan Policy.
9.24 Consultants advise that the prospect of further retail floorspace in Braintree should be considered carefully, whilst the town and town centre are adjusting to recent retail developments. As far as food shopping is concerned, while recent developments have taken up any identified capacity that existed, updated assessment work indicates that growth in and around Braintree is likely to give rise to some limited quantitative capacity for additional floor space over the plan period. In terms of non-food shopping, there has been insufficient time since the opening of Freeport to fully assess its effects. The situation will need to be monitored, throughout the plan period, whilst new retail patterns settle down. No proposals are therefore put forward in this plan for additional retail floorspace in the town. Any site specific proposals that come forward over the plan period will be assessed against relevant plan policies.
9.25 The suggested strategy for Braintree Town Centre comprises the following elements:
- No new site specific allocations, and any individual proposals to be assessed against relevant plan policies
- Encouraging the prospect of further comparison shopping in the town centre
- Continuation of a programme of environmental improvements
- Examining opportunities for the New Street/Market Street area
- Encouraging cafe culture, particularly in Market Square
- Strengthening of links with Freeport to increase linked trips
- Protecting certain frontages from non-retail uses
- Extending the town centre strategy group into a partnership of all stakeholders, to promote town centre and to implement focused improvements
- Pursuing the appointment of a town centre manager
Areas in Braintree in Market Place, Great Square, the western end of Manor Street and the northern end of Fairfield Road are proposed for environmental improvement and are shown on the proposals map. Proposals which would prejudice these improvements will not be permitted. Contributions towards the improvements and towards their future maintenance, where appropriate, will be sought from developments that are permitted in the town centre and other developments which may have an impact on the vitality and viability of the town centre.
9.26 Halstead functions as a country market town, with a range of shops and services. A number of environmental improvements have been carried out, including repaving part of the High Street, the provision of street furniture, heritage lighting and the restoration of the Public Gardens. Halstead town centre has a relatively affluent catchment, a high quality environment, and a number of interesting independent shops. However, as retailing trends have changed in the last ten years, Halstead has been left behind relative to nearby competing centres.
9.27 The main foodstores in Halstead are the Co-op Solar Store and Somerfield. A limited amount of further food retailing within the town may enhance its catchment profile.
9.28 Halstead retains only 14% of the expenditure for non food shopping within its catchment. Given the vacancy rate within the town centre, the limited opportunities for development and the lack of significant demand, it is unlikely that this position will change over the plan period. If demand comes forward from specific retailers then this could be met by the incremental take up of existing space. However, the historic nature of many of the units within the town centre means that it is difficult to accommodate modern retailer requirements.
9.29 There is a development opportunity on land to the east of Halstead High Street. Mixed uses on this site should include housing and shoppers car- parking: There is a need for additional short-stay car parking to serve Halstead Town Centre. This site should provide a minimum of 30 spaces for short-stay parking, with access off The Centre. A development brief has been prepared to provide supplementary planning guidance on the content and layout of development. The Centre (that is, the road east of the High Street), together with a rear parking area is also an area that would benefit from refurbishment or redevelopment and environmental improvement and this is shown as a comprehensive development area on the Proposals Map. Acceptable use at The Centre could include retail, office use and residential.
9.30 Because of the historic nature of Halstead, and the limited demand for further retailing, any strategy for the town centre needs to concentrate on its existing retail structure. It is suggested that the strategy should have the following elements:
- Promotion of Halstead as a tourist centre based on its historic nature and its role as an antique centre
- Further environmental improvements in Bridge Street, Weavers Court and Market Hill
- Investigation of further shoppers car parking
- To widen the town centre partnership to include all stakeholders to develop a strategy for the town and to promote it
- Considering the prospect of a part time or shared town centre manager
- Monitoring the gateway locations to the town
Land East of Halstead High Street is allocated on the Proposals Map as a Comprehensive Development Area. Mixed uses on this site should include shoppers car parking. A development brief is to be agreed with the Council, prior to the commencement of any development.
Areas in Halstead Town Centre at Bridge Street, Weavers Court,High Street, The Centre and Market Hill are proposed for environmental improvement. Proposals which would prejudice these improvements will not be permitted. Contributions towards the improvements and towards their future maintenance, where appropriate, will be sought from developments that are permitted in the town centre and other developments which may have an impact on the vitality and viability of the town centre.
The Centre (that is, the road, retail/mixed use units and associated rear parking, east of the High Street) is shown as a comprehensive development area on the Proposals Map, where refurbishment, or redevelopment, will be encouraged, for retail, office, residential purposes or a mix of these uses.
9.31 Witham Town Centre provides primarily food and other convenience retailing for the local population. The main shopping areas are Newland Street, the Grove Centre and the Newlands Shopping Centre. There is an off-centre Morrisons foodstore in Braintree Road. The environmental quality of the town centre is generally high, with a number of historic buildings. The Grove Centre is relatively modern and of a quality which complements the historic centre. The Newlands Shopping Centre dates from the 1960’s and would benefit from refurbishment, or redevelopment. This is therefore shown as a comprehensive development area on the Proposals Map.
9.32 In general Witham Town Centre exhibits good signs of vitality and viability and overall appears to be relatively healthy. There are some concerns about the current level of vacancies within the town centre, and the concentration of pedestrian flows between the two shopping centres has diluted flows at the southern and northern ends of Newland Street. However, the introduction of service uses in these areas has added to the diversity of uses in the town centre.
9.33 A capacity assessment has been undertaken by consultants for food retailing in Witham. This has identified some scope for additional food floorspace in Witham town centre. It is suggested that this could, for instance include a new discount foodstore together with an extension to the existing Tesco store. There is also a commitment to 1115 square metres of additional convenience retailing, as part of the new neighbourhood development at Maltings Lane. The comparison sector within Witham is comparatively weak, primarily because of the town’s proximity to Chelmsford and Colchester. It is unlikely that this position will change over the plan period and any growth in this sector is likely to be on an incremental basis.
9.34 It is proposed that a flexible strategy will be adopted for Witham town centre based on the following elements:
- To focus on the existing retailers within Witham town centre, rather than to seek further developments. If new proposals do come forward within the town centre then these will be viewed positively. No specific sites are allocated and any new proposals would need to be located within the existing town centre
- A strengthening of the town centre partnership, to include all key stakeholders within the town centre to define common goals and to promote the town centre accordingly
- Consideration to be given to a town centre manager, either part-time or shared with another centre
- Further environmental improvements
Areas in Witham Town Centre at Newland Street, Newlands Drive Car Park and the Lockrams Lane Car Park are proposed for environmental improvement. Proposals which would prejudice these improvements will not be permitted. Contributions towards the improvements and towards their future maintenance, where appropriate, will be sought from developments that are permitted in the town centre and other developments which may have an impact on the vitality and viability of the town centre.
The Newlands Precinct is shown as a comprehensive development area on the Proposals Map, where refurbishment, or redevelopment will be encouraged, for retail purposes.
9.35 The District has a number of local centres, both within neighbourhoods in the urban areas and in villages. These provide an important local service providing for top up shopping and for those people who cannot conveniently reach town centre shops. Proposals which would lead to the improvement of such centres will be encouraged. The loss of shops and services in rural areas is a source of concern: Proposals which would lead to their loss will be resisted, unless there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the shop, or service, is not economically viable and all options for its continuance have been fully explored.
Proposals for new shops in local centres will be permitted where it can be demonstrated that existing facilities are inadequate and additional shops are required to meet the needs of a local neighbourhood, and where the following criteria are met:
i) The proposal is of a scale and size appropriate for the area.
ii) Parking is provided in accordance with the standards set out in Appendix 3 of this Plan.
iii) There would be no adverse impact on residential properties in the immediate area.
iv) There is no unacceptable impact on the vitality and viability of existing neighbourhood or town centres.
v) There is no unacceptable increase in traffic movements arising from the proposed development or unacceptable implications for highway safety.
The provision of additional shopping facilities in villages, including the expansion, or redevelopment, of existing shops will be given favourable consideration providing there are no overriding environmental or highway constraints.
Within the rural areas, support will be given to the continuance of services and facilities, in order to maintain community life. Proposals which would lead to the loss of village facilities will not be permitted unless sufficient evidence is provided to demonstrate that they are not viable and that all options for their continuance have been fully explored.
9.36 During the plan period the Council will keep the health of the town centres under continuous review. In particular the following indicators will be monitored for each town on an annual basis:
i) Number of vacant units in the town centre
ii) Number and type of retail and service uses
iii) Pedestrian flows at key locations
iv) Number and type of car parking spaces
v) Availability and frequency of public transport services
vi) Retail floorspace In addition, consultants advice will be sought from time to time on rents, yields and retailer demand.