3c. Planning for town centres

The role planning has for our town centres and high streets

3c.1 Our town centres and high streets continue to face challenges following Covid-19, as well as changes in shopping habits and consumer demand. The new Local Plan is an opportunity to rethink the services they offer, the planning policies that manage uses within them, and to review their boundaries to support regeneration, inclusive development and change. This will allow our town centres and high streets to adapt and evolve to meet the changing needs of the communities they serve.

3c.2 National planning policy requires us to define a network and hierarchy of town centres, as well as their boundaries and the boundary of the primary shopping area within each centre. Our new Local Plan will then have policies covering which uses should be allowed for within those boundaries, and policies that prioritise town centres.

3c.3 Town centres have a key role in supporting the communities they serve as well as attracting visitors. With increased home working, town centres in some locations have lost footfall from office workers but overall, more people are living and working within walking, cycling or wheeling distance of our town centres, helping them to thrive. We have also seen more smaller independent businesses taking the place of high street chains, with greater appreciation of the high street for local shopping, leisure activities, and outdoor dining. Our town centres therefore function as destinations as well as places to shop.

3c.4 The locations within and around our town centres provide an opportunity for people to live, work and access services and facilities, and development in these locations should be making the best use of available land, while providing for a high quality of life.

Our town centres

3c.5 South Gloucestershire currently has 12 town centres across our 2 urban areas and 3 market towns:

  • Bradley Stoke, Filton, Patchway, Stoke Gifford in the Bristol North Fringe
  • Kingswood, Staple Hill, Hanham, Downend, Emersons Green in the Bristol East Fringe, and
  • Thornbury, Yate, and Chipping Sodbury as market towns

3c.6 As well as shops these centres provide facilities such as financial, community, food and drink, leisure, health facilities, community buildings, employment, housing, and opportunities to access a range of public transport services.

3c.7 At the time of our existing Local Plan Core Strategy adoption in 2013 and Policies, Sites and Places plan (PSP) in 2017, Stoke Gifford and Patchway were classified as ‘district centres’ to serve a more localised role for those new communities, but this role has been updated as those communities grew, and the centres became established. There is also no difference in local and national planning policy between town and district centres, and how key tests are applied when assessing planning applications.

3c.8 We then have local centres providing everyday needs of residents, such as small grocery stores, hairdressers, and dry cleaners. These lie within walking, cycling, wheeling, and other active travel distance of nearby residential areas.

Our proposed town centre hierarchy

3c.9 Most services and town centres in South Gloucestershire are located within the North and East Fringes of Bristol urban areas, together with our three market towns. While there will be changes within these centres, only minor change is expected to this settlement pattern over the new Local Plan period.

3c.10 So only minor updates to the town centre hierarchy are necessary in our new Local Plan. We propose to amend Patchway and Stoke Gifford from district to town centres, recognising their offer has grown as the communities have developed around them, and that national planning policy does not treat town and district centres any differently. Mature town centres in the East Fringe serve their communities well, and the new Local Plan will consider ways that potential new communities (which are being explored through consideration of the 3 “lenses” discussed in section 6: New strategy – ‘lenses‘) could connect into them.

3c.11 We are therefore looking to confirm 12 town centres of equal status, and the following boundaries:

  • a primary shopping area boundary, the core of the town centre, where there will be a focus on shops for food, drink, clothing and household goods, and
  • a wider town centre boundary with more flexibility for other main town centre uses such as restaurants, cinemas and offices


Do you have any comments on our proposed updates to the primary shopping area and wider town centre boundaries?

Please submit your comments through our interactive map.

3c.12 Nationally set permitted development rights for town centre uses have increased in recent years, and potentially may increase further. This means some development (both building and changes of use) may take place in the above boundaries which the council is unable to control.

3c.13 Below town centres in the hierarchy are the 49 existing local centres in our urban areas and larger villages. New local centres are also expected to come forward as part of larger new developments that will be consulted upon and confirmed through our new Local Plan.

3c.14 The size and facilities within new local centres, being provided to support new or expanded communities, should be specific to the new communities they are intended to serve and include a reasonable size of units and types of premises, to ensure they are sustainable and viable commercially. We want to avoid space allocated and promised as a local centre, for small scale retail, food shops, or cafés, being changed to residential or non-local centre uses due to it being found not to be marketable or attractive over a short-term basis, when it was intended to offer a true service of facility for new homes, jobs and communities.

3c.15 As local centres are small in scale, and to allow them flexibility to grow in response to the needs of the communities they serve, in our new Local Plan we propose to continue the existing approach of indicating their location without a defined boundary.

3c.16 Public houses (pubs) make an important contribution to town centres and communities, and existing policy PSP34 of our Policies, Sites and Places Plan 2017 supports pubs being retained. We are reviewing current best practice and national planning policies and will consider whether it is appropriate to bring forward an updated local planning policy on retention of pubs through this local plan or a future local plan document to ensure pubs which play a valuable role in town centres, local centres and for communities are protected through the planning system in so far as is possible.

3c.17 Garden centres are generally located outside of town centres but also serve their nearby communities and met a particular need during Covid-19. They can provide a range of facilities in addition to plant sales, and we need to ensure new garden centres, or changes to existing ones, do not draw business away from nearby town centres causing them to decline. But recognising the services they provide, particularly for rural communities, we are also considering whether it would be appropriate to also protect garden centres from redevelopment.

Future town centre growth needs

3c.18 National planning policy requires us to allocate sites in town centres to meet needs for new retail, leisure, office and other main town centre uses, looking at least 10 years ahead. Permitted development rights for town centre uses have extended over recent years meaning more changes of use do not need planning permission. Our town centres and high streets are also ever-changing making estimating more difficult when looking more than 5 years ahead.

3c.19 Through other initiatives, such as the vacant unit project, targeted business support, and public realm regeneration projects, the council is prioritising support for our high streets and town centres. We are working proactively to improve their offer, supporting change to strengthen their vitality. We consider there is sufficient space within our town centres to meet their future needs and those of the communities they serve. This is because some allocations for more retail space and other town centres uses proposed in 2017 through our existing Policies Sites and Places Plan have not been delivered, and the role of town centres is now different due to changing shopping habits and Covid-19. So future growth of our town centres is expected be through a more diverse and enhanced offer.

3c.20 Town centres, and particularly the primary shopping areas, remain retail focussed, but they also have a role in supporting our urban areas and market towns to meet our needs for homes, jobs and infrastructure. As many of them are highly sustainable with good access to facilities and public transport they can support urban regeneration projects for a wider mix of uses including housing. For more detail on potential site allocations in the urban area and longer-term regeneration and transformational projects which overlap with some of our town centres, please read section 4: Urban areas and market towns.

Draft town centre policy

3c.21 Draft policy: Town Centres is set out in section 11: Policy framework and draft policies. This will replace policy CS14 of the adopted Core Strategy and policy PSP31 of the Policies, Sites and Places Plan, and confirm the designated town centres and primary shopping areas in South Gloucestershire. It will also set out the key criteria for considering new large- and small-scale applications for retail, leisure and other town centre uses, including thresholds for when assessment of impact on existing centres would be required. Find out more and submit your comments.

Town centre and primary shopping area boundaries

3c.22 To support the draft policy we have proposed updates to our town centre and primary shopping area boundaries. These updates are set out in Appendix 1. You can also view and comment on these proposed boundaries using our interactive map.

Read the next section – Planning for infrastructure.

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