The London Borough of Croydon advised the easyGroup against building outside the town’s allotted retail zone at the end of May. Planning lawyer Oliver Goodwin explains why the decision was disappointing in light of Croydon’s recently adopted Core Strategy.

The easyGroup was advised against opening its first easyFoodstore at the Croydon site by the Council after having already gained approval for an easyHotel at the same site located near East Croydon Station, but crucially outside the town’s main retail zone.

Although the easyGroup, owned by entrepreneur Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, was quick to point out that it did not actually formally apply for planning permission for the Croydon store, and that it was in fact simply advised about the existence of the exclusion zone policy in Croydon, clearly the Council’s planners were sufficiently negative about the proposal to deter Sir Stelios from proceeding with his pilot scheme there.

Local plans generally have centres defined with a line on a plan. The Croydon Unitary Development Plan states that Croydon town centre will be the “preferred location for major and new retail development”.

Retail plans which fall outside defined retail zones will either be rejected or will be required to pass the sequential test, which since the 90s has been used to restrict the growth of major out-of-town retailing in favour of more centrally located retail centres. The sequential approach requires locations to be considered in a set order. “Firstly, locations in existing centres, taking account of the scale of the development in relation to the role and function of the centre; secondly, edge-of-centre locations, with preference given to sites that are, or will be connected to the centre, and thirdly, out-of-centre sites, with preference given to sites that are, or will be, well served by a choice of means of transport, and which are close to the centre and have a high likelihood of forming links with the centre” (The Croydon Plan).

Croydon’s Core Strategy, adopted in April last year, has very little reference in the lists of strategic policies and objectives to retail as part of the regeneration to which the Borough aspires. The detailed retail policy is taken from the old Plan which was due to have been replaced in 2009.

Arguably, the encouragement to allow a mix of uses in the High Street, as proposed in the Portas Review, should be a two-way street. The ambition for activity and vibrancy in an area can be achieved by introducing some retail elements into business areas.

Croydon’s Core Strategy describes “a city that fosters ideas and innovation” and the easyFoodstore pilot would seem to be an ideal opportunity for the planners to implement this foreword by moving away from boundaries on a plan.

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