Central Bedfordshire Draft Local Plan (July 2017)

Ended on the 29 August 2017
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(10) 14 Retail and Town Centres

(4) 14.1 Retail Hierarchy

14.1.1 Town Centres play an important role in supporting the local economy as they provide a wide range of services, facilities and employment and act as a focal point for surrounding communities. Competitive town centres should provide customer choice; with a range of main town centre uses including retail development, office accommodation, arts, cultural and tourism development and leisure and entertainment uses.

14.1.2 While it is recognised that towns in Central Bedfordshire suffer from a leakage of expenditure to larger centres like Milton Keynes, Luton and Bedford that are easily accessible to Central Bedfordshire residents; the towns still play an important function for local communities.  In the main the town centres are characterised by high occupancy rates and attractive shop fronts. The role of the retail hierarchy set out in Table 15.1 below is to support the growth of new retail development in appropriate locations and at appropriate scales in order to further consolidate the existing centres. 

14.1.3 The planned housing growth will lead to an increased population in Central Bedfordshire over the next twenty years with a large proportion of additional expenditure expected to come from the new population. In order to cater for the growing population and having regard to the recent and expected trends in the retail and leisure sectors, it is considered that an appropriate strategy for Central Bedfordshire would be to improve its retail offer by focussing on improving the vitality and viability of the existing town centres in the short and medium term and increasing the comparison retail need in Central Bedfordshire at the end of the plan period in line with the projected increases in population as identified in Table 15.2. This could be achieved by making the existing floorspace in the town centres work hard to attract visitors, the intensification of uses in the town centres and implementing the objectives of the town centre masterplans and frameworks.

14.1.4 Given the planned housing growth and resulting increase in population as well as the documented changes in the convenience goods sector, such as the change in store formats to smaller stores; Central Bedfordshire will plan for increasing the convenience retail need.  Planning for an increase in convenience retail need will allow for the town centres, service centres and large villages to provide for the existing and future local need and ensure these places are more sustainable by reducing the need for residents to travel to the large adjoining centres.

14.1.5 Retail and leisure uses should also be working together to support the vitality and viability of the town centres through generating local employment opportunities and creating more attractive, diverse and healthy places catering for a range of specialist and brand retail that encourages footfall to these centres.    There has been an increase in the leisure offers within the town centres, with a shift in some of the town centres towards more A3 uses (restaurant and cafes).  This is considered positive as these uses increase dwell times in the town centres thus improving the vitality and viability of them. Accordingly it is considered that it is appropriate to plan for an increase in food and drink uses within the designated town centres and villages.  

Table 15.1: Retail Hierarchy

Type of Centre


Principal Function

Principal Town Centres


Leighton Buzzard


Provides a range of shops including many national multiple retailers and independent shops. Provides an extensive range of services, facilities and leisure uses and is home to a large number of businesses

Secondary Town Centres



Houghton Regis



Provides a range of shops including some national multiple retailers and many independent shops. Provides a range of services, facilities and leisure uses and is home to a number of businesses

Minor Service Centres

See Policy SP7

Provides a number of local shops and a small to medium sized supermarket

Large Villages

See Policy SP8

Provides a small number of local shops serving a small catchment

Table 15.2 : Quantitative Need to 2035 






Comparison goods (sqm net)






Convenience goods (sqm net)






Food and drink uses (sqm net)






14.1.6 When planning for the retail provision in the planned urban extensions and large settlements, it is considered that retail provision should be of a scale to meet local convenience needs in order to complement existing centres.

14.1.7 With the exception of the new settlement of Wixams, each of the Major Service Centres (principal and secondary town centres) within the settlement hierarchy have designated town centre boundaries. An appropriate town centre boundary will be identified for Wixams in the future. The purpose of the boundaries is to maximise the vibrancy of town centres by ensuring that a high concentration of main town centre uses; particularly retail and leisure uses; are focused within the designated area. The town centre boundaries can be viewed on the Policies Maps.

(2) 14.2 The Sequential Approach and Town Centre Vitality

14.2.1 The approach of requiring new main town centre uses to be delivered in town centre locations first will be adhered to. Where this is not feasible, sites on the edge of town centres should then be considered, followed by out of centre locations. When considering out of centre sites, preference will be given to accessible sites that are well connected to the town centre.

14.2.2 It is recognised that certain types of retailing, whilst beneficial to the local economy, may not be appropriate within town centres; particularly 'bulky goods' retailing. In order to meet the needs of shoppers and ensure a varied retail offer within Central Bedfordshire, proposals for such uses will be considered on a case by case basis. They must also be supported by evidence that demonstrates that the sequential approach has been followed to ensure that new uses complement rather than adversely affect existing centres.

14.2.3 In order to maintain the vitality of town centres, A1 use classes should be retained where possible. Where there are proposals for changes of use to other A use classes, the potential impact on the town centre as a whole will be considered, including the issue of  whether approval of the scheme would result in an over concentration of the proposed use.

14.2.4 To further support this 'town centre first' approach, the NPPF gives local authorities the option to set their own floorspace thresholds for impact assessments for out of town centre retail, leisure and office proposals; the default threshold being 2,500m². Although Central Bedfordshire does have existing food stores with a gross floorspace of more than 2,500 m², these tend to be edge or out of centre stores. In the town centres, convenience store to medium size supermarket provision together with a wide range of small independent outlets is the usual profile. In view of this, new or extended food stores in edge of centre, or out of centre locations, could have a significant impact on town centre provision especially given the scale of the rural centres. It is therefore considered that any proposals over 500m² gross, outside of town centre boundaries, should be subject to an impact assessment.

(7) Policy R1: Ensuring Town Centre Vitality

All proposals will have regard to the Retail Hierarchy. The Council will support and encourage the retail and service provision in the Town Centres.

Within the identified town centre boundaries of the principal and secondary town centres, development proposals for main town centre uses such as retail, leisure, commercial, office, tourism, cultural, and community uses will be supported in principle.

Proposals for change of use, or re-development of properties, away from these uses will be supported in principle providing that they meet all of the following criteria:

  • The proposed use would be appropriate within a town centre setting;
  • There is not an existing over-concentration of such uses within the town centre boundary;
  • The proposed use would positively enhance the vitality of the town centre by extending the range of facilities offered and/or stimulating activity outside normal shopping hours; and
  • The proposed use would maintain an appropriate window display to avoid the creation of a 'dead' frontage.

Above ground floor level, proposals for residential (C3) and general office space (B1a) will be encouraged.

Outside designated town centres

The Sequential Test will be applied to proposals for main town centre uses that are not within a designated town centre boundary.

Retail Impact Assessments will be required for all retail, office and leisure proposals over 500sqm gross external floorspace that are outside a designated town centre boundary. Schemes that are found to have negative impact on the vitality of town centres will be refused.

Proposals for retailing in out-of-centre locations will be considered, in conjunction with Policy EMP2.

(4) 14.3 Neighbourhood and Rural Retail and Services

14.3.1 The Council recognises the vital role that shops and public houses play in supporting local neighbourhoods and rural communities; particularly those that are relatively isolated from town centre facilities and services. Proposals for new retail services within minor service centres and villages are therefore encouraged where appropriate; while existing services should be maintained where they remain viable.

14.3.2 Many outlying neighbourhoods and much of the rural community are poorly served by public transport, therefore if existing rural facilities within walking distance are lost; it could contribute to social exclusion, particularly for the elderly and those without a car. It is certainly the case that many local public houses and shops have been saved by a strict planning policy in the past so it is increasingly vital to maintain this strong policy stance in the face of current economic pressures.

14.3.3 Retail premises such as farm shops, which are located outside of rural settlements can also play an important role in supporting the rural economy and providing a sustainable source of locally produced food.

(6) Policy R2: Retail for minor service centres, villages and the rural economy

In order to support vibrant, sustainable and diverse neighbourhoods and the rural economy, proposals for retail uses within existing minor service centres and villages will be supported in principle subject to the following criteria:

  • The proposal is of a suitable scale to the service centre or village;
  • The site is an appropriate location;
  • The proposal would not result in unsustainable levels of traffic generation.

Proposals for the change of use or re-development of shops or public houses in existing minor service centres or villages which would result in the loss of such facilities, will not be permitted unless:

  • There are other facilities performing the same function within easy walking distance of the community; and
  • The applicant provides sufficient and demonstrable evidence that there is no realistic prospect of the use continuing, even if permission is refused.

Where the above tests are met, the site/building must firstly be considered for alternative community infrastructure uses. Only where these are demonstrated to be unviable or unsuitable will other uses be acceptable.

Proposals for the change of use or re-development of retail premises such as local farm shops, shops at garage sites and public houses which are located outside of settlement boundaries will also be considered against the above criteria.

(12) 14.4 Town Centre Development

14.4.1 Although many residents in Central Bedfordshire use the larger centres adjoining the area, the town centres in Central Bedfordshire still play a vital role in supporting the local surrounding communities by providing a range of services and facilities.  It is therefore important that policies and initiatives are designed to support the town centres to withstand the ongoing economic challenges.

14.4.2 Town Centre identity plays a significant role in defining its sense of place and creating a destination that is unique to its offer in Central Bedfordshire and the surrounding region. Recognising that the town centres cannot compete with larger adjoining town centres, it is important that they provide retail, lifestyle and cultural experiences that create distinct destinations. 

14.4.3 As well as the adopted (and emerging) masterplans and development briefs for the town centres to guide appropriate development, there are Strategic Delivery Frameworks (SDFs) for Central Bedfordshire's large market towns: Dunstable, Leighton-Linslade, Ampthill & Flitwick and Biggleswade. These SDFs provide a guide to the vision, growth and development in these towns. Central Bedfordshire plays a proactive role in enabling suitable development that benefits sustainable growth.

14.4.4 Central Bedfordshire Council will continue to support and create initiatives that increase our town centre's vitality and viability. The Market Town Regeneration Fund (MTRF) is one example of this approach. The MTRF has been developed to enhance market towns across Central Bedfordshire, supporting economic and cultural activities within town centres with the aim of making them more vibrant and better places to visit, live and do business in.

Dunstable Town Centre

14.4.5 Dunstable is an historic town located on the A5 which runs through the town and connects it to the M1 at J9 to the south and Milton Keynes to the north. The town as a whole has a relatively high percentage of convenience floorspace (27% compared to the national average of 18%), largely due to the presence of four supermarkets. However, the comparison offer is fairly low and consists of a range of middle to low market offer businesses. Whilst the "traditional" High Street is comparably well occupied, the number of vacant units in the town is marginally higher than the national average.

14.4.6 Significant repositioning and redevelopment is required to revitalise and reinvigorate Dunstable town centre to meet the needs of today's shoppers. There are plans for regenerating Dunstable Town Centre, including de-trunking the high street, increasing pedestrian access across the town and enabling new town centre development that benefits the local economy, including new leisure, employment and educational facilities. There are plans for refurbishing the Quadrant Shopping Centre and changes have been made to the configuration, which has seen an increase in occupancy.

14.4.7 In order to provide additional competitive and appropriate retail space in the town, it is recognised that attention might need to shift beyond the town centre to other nearby locations, such as the newly built Grove Theatre.  Another location is the already well-established White Lion Retail Park which has both larger footprint stores accommodating big box retail, and also offers restaurants and leisure uses. The recent opening of the Luton-Dunstable Busway which has stops adjacent to the White Lion Retail Park also supports this change of focus and, by encouraging sustainable travel from the wider conurbation, will free up the local transport network thus reducing traffic congestion in the town centre. The construction of the A5-M1 Link Road and Woodside Connection will also alleviate traffic pressures in this location by diverting traffic, particularly heavy goods vehicles, away from the town centre and will encourage shopping in the traditional High Street shops.

Leighton Buzzard Town Centre

14.4.8 Leighton Buzzard is an attractive market town which grew significantly during the 1970s. The Town Council has  a document entitled 'The Big Plan' which outlines the community's aspirations for the town. Central Bedfordshire Council is working closely with the Town Council to deliver many of the proposals, including new sports and community facilities and traffic management schemes.

14.4.9 The town has a good comparison retail offer, largely focused around the High Street, Market Square and Waterborne Walk. The percentage of convenience floorspace in the town centre (24%) is above the national average (18%). Notably, vacancy rates are significantly below the national average. The town centre is characterised by a good choice of independent shops alongside some national chains. Leighton Buzzard has a growing specialist economy and this will be encouraged and supported by Central Bedfordshire.

14.4.10 Development Briefs were adopted by the Council in 2012 as Interim Technical Guidance for Development Management purposes which will guide and attract development on two key sites: Land South of High Street and Bridge Meadow. Land South of High Street will create an extension to the High Street with a proposed new retail circuit, which will have the capacity to accommodate high quality complimentary uses and enhance Leighton Buzzard's sense of place. The Development Brief for Land South of High Street will be updated and will act as supplementary planning guidance to the Local Plan. Bridge Meadows is a proposed waterside development that could offer a new mixed-use quarter that will strengthen the links between the combined towns of Linslade and Leighton Buzzard.

Houghton Regis Town Centre

14.4.11 Houghton Regis town centre contains a significant higher proportion of convenience retail units than the national average (22% compared to 9%). The majority of the retail offer is at Bedford Square, although a new supermarket has recently opened on the High Street. The physical environment of the town centre has also recently undergone substantial public realm improvements along the complete length of the High Street. The public transport network has recently undergone improvements with the opening of the Luton-Dunstable Busway and the proposed A5-M1 Link Road and the Woodside Connection should further improve the general environment, local public transport and congestion throughout the town centre.

14.4.12 An adopted Masterplan outlines how the town centre could be improved and how it could contribute to meeting the needs of a significantly increased local population. It is important that regard is had to Houghton Regis town centre when considering the master planning of the nearby urban extensions, particularly the location and scale of new local centres.

Biggleswade Town Centre

14.4.13 Biggleswade town centre has an attractive market town feel. There are a number of historic buildings in the town centre which give it character and contribute positively to the townscape. The town centre is well served by supermarkets and convenience stores. While the comparison retail offer is below average, there is still a good range of premises. Vacancy rates in Biggleswade are on par with the national average of 18%.

14.4.14 The provisions of the adopted town centre Masterplan will increase the retail offer of the town, whilst improving transport infrastructure and the public realm. A particular focus in improving the town centre offer will be initiatives designed to enhance the historical Market Square and heart of the town.     

Flitwick Town Centre

14.4.15 Flitwick is characterised by a disjointed town centre and a lack of public space and amenities which impact of the attractiveness of the town centre.  These issues are largely caused by the location of the main rail line going through Flitwick dividing the town centre into two distinct and poorly connected areas.

14.4.16 The proportion of convenience units in the centre is comparable to the national average, although there are only three units including a supermarket. The comparison offer in the town centre is extremely limited with no national retailers. There is a current need however for additional retail floorspace in Flitwick that has not been met to date due to the lack of appropriate sites and units capable of supporting this expansion.  The redevelopment of the station area will mitigate this issue by providing up to 5,500 sqm (gross) additional floorspace within the station area.

14.4.17 The adopted Planning Framework and Indicative Masterplan for the town centre aims to guide the provision of a new focus for retailing and a significantly enhanced physical environment. A new transport interchange combining all forms of public transport will be provided at this end at Flitwick railway station which will also provide additional facilities for cyclists as well as improved public spaces and facilities for station and town centre uses. Further significant new retail floorpsace will be provided within the station area as part of a redevelopment of this area and adjacent land thereby providing space for the expansion of both convenience and comparison retailers.  This facility will form part of a larger mixed use development which will seek to create a clearer focal point and heart for the town centre in line with the principals of the town centre masterplan.

(7) Policy R3: Town Centre Development

Dunstable Town Centre

The town centre is the preferred location for new retail development and other forms of development, such as leisure and entertainment, offices, arts, culture and tourism and should be in accordance with the Strategic Delivery Framework and emerging Regeneration and Master Plans.

Proposals should reflect the scale and characteristics of Dunstable Town Centre protect and enhance the town's heritage assets and should be subject to a Traffic Impact Assessment, where appropriate.

Consideration should also be given to the retail hierarchy and the sequential approach as outlined in Policy R1.

Other Town Centres

In addition to Policy R1  development proposals should be in accordance with the principle and objectives of:

  • The two endorsed development briefs for Leighton Buzzard;
  • The Houghton Regis Masterplan SPD;
  • The Biggleswade Town Centre Masterplan SPD
  • The Flitwick Framework Plan and Indicative Masterplan.

Development proposals elsewhere in these towns should complement and not prejudice development proposed.  The Council will seek to secure financial contributions to mitigate any significant adverse impacts on existing town centres or planned investment.

Where town centres do not have adopted or endorsed masterplans or development briefs, the Council will seek to support sustainable development in town centres and retain existing retail uses in line with Policy R1.

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