Investors Accuse UK Government of Sacrificing Town Centres

on Dec 3, 2012
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**Landlords Complain About “Out-of-Control” Out-of-Town Developments**

Owners of 42 town-centre retail zones across the UK have accused the government of sacrificing the country’s struggling high street in its effort to promote the “growth agenda”, The Times reported on 3 December 2012.
In an open letter to Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles, the landlords say that they do not trust UK ministers who claim that the existing planning policy is being applied in a “transparent and even-handed manner”. Amongst the signatories to the complaint are London-listed property companies including NewRiver (LON:NRR), Helical Bar (LON:HLCL) and Capital & Regional (LON:CAL), as well as Ellandi, Addington Capital, F&C Reit and Hark Group. In the letter to Mr Pickles they write: “It has become clear that a number of out-of-town developers have submitted highly speculative and totally inappropriate schemes throughout the UK, mostly completely contrary to existing planning policy. Local opinion is often bought with the promise of job creation, with little or no consideration given to the fact that this will mostly be at the expense of existing town centre jobs and investment.”

**Government Move with Controversial Effect**
Since the recession, property values in secondary town centres have been hit significantly. IPD managing director for the UK and Ireland, Phil Tily, even said that the decline in secondary property had been “worse than initially feared”. Due to the ailing market situation, last year, the UK government pledged to help the country’s high streets and, in its new National Planning Policy Framework, said that it had strengthened the “town centre first” policy, which requires developers building outside town centres to demonstrate before they do so that there was no suitable alternative site centrally. This move, however, has triggered criticism, several controversial out-of-town applications subsequently having been approved.

!m[Owners of 42 Town-Centre Retail Zones Say About Government Focus on Out-of-Town Developments ](/uploads/story/950/thumbs/pic1_inline.png)A recent example is LXB Retail Properties (LON:LXB) which in the face of opposition from neighbouring councils and nearby shopping centres was granted consent for the development of a 465,000 sq ft out-of-town retail park at Rushden Lakes in Northamptonshire. The development, which was given the green light by East Northamptonshire Council in October, was opposed by a number of neighbouring councils. Northampton, Corby, Kettering and Bedford Borough Councils all objected to the development, saying its completion would lead to a lack of retail interest and trade in their own town centres. They also said that the Rushden Lakes development would discourage investors from investing in their towns, opting to invest in the new project instead.

**“Fighting Outrageous Out-of-Town Planning Applications”**
Mark Robinson, a founding partner of one of the letter’s signatories Ellandi, a property company with £150 million of retail schemes in Cornwall, Northamptonshire, Kent and Somerset, said: “What is really upsetting us is that we have invested in town centres and we know what we are doing. However, it is hard enough managing a town centre development without having to spend lots of time and money fighting outrageous out-of-town planning applications.”
The government has not yet responded to the landlords’ complaint. Yet, out-of-town developers argue that their schemes encourage growth, attract spending in local economies and enjoy widespread support from shoppers, retailers and councils.

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