New retail guidelines could help town centres to survive
Two organisations representing retailers around the country have welcomed the new Retail Planning Guidelines published by Minister for the Environment, Phil Hogan.
"The new guidelines appear to strike the right balance between facilitating larger retail stores and re-balancing planning in favour of the retail cores of Ireland's cities and towns" says David Fitzsimons who is chief executive of Retail Excellence Ireland, the country's largest retail industry group with over 9,500 store members, employing over 110,000 people.
Comprehensive and timely is how the Irish Hardware & Building Materials Association (IHBMA) has described the guidelines.
Their main provisions are: The cap on the size of supermarkets in Dublin has been increased from 3,500 to 4,000sqm.
The cap on the size of supermarkets in Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick has been increased from 3,000 to 3,500sqm.
The cap for the rest of the country remains the same.
Out-of-town warehouse retail developments are being permitted in Dublin and other large cities only
New retail developments should take place in city and town centres, not in new retail parks and out-of-town retail centres
The country is being divided up into five retail planning regions, with each region developing a coordinated retail planning strategy.
Minister for Housing and Planning, Jan O'Sullivan added that the new guidelines will also avail of proper evidence of the need for retail development and ensure a pro-active approach in facilitating the meeting of those needs.
Explaining that the plan-led approach will be delivered through greater co-operation with planning authorities in the preparation of joint or multi-planning authority retail strategies, she said such strategies will be adopted by planning authorities in six gateway cities and towns that straddle local authority boundaries -- Dublin, Cork, Galway, Waterford, Limerick/Shannon and Midlands.
Mr Fitzsimons welcomes the moderate scale of the increases in the cap on supermarket size and their restrictions to the country's main urban centres as a dramatically increased cap would result in new retail monopolies. He says that the National Consumer Agency lobbied the Troika and Government hard for a significant increase.
By re-balancing the retail planning system in favour of existing retail cores in cities and towns, local authorities will be required to apply the sequential test to all new retail developments.
"This test means new retail developments must be located in existing town and city centres where possible, rather than in out-of-town locations. This should help to re-energise large numbers of smaller provincial towns and promote sustainable urban renewal, but only if correctly applied by local authorities and planning bodies.
"Without a doubt, there is room in the Irish retail landscape for the many shopping centres and retail parks that have been developed over the past decade."
Meanwhile, the IHBMA, whose members are in the business sector hardest hit by the downturn, supports the guidelines addressing what has led to the proliferation of retailing in locations where there has been poor demand, and which are unaligned with existing transport links. This, it says, has resulted in adverse impacts on the vitality of nearby city and town centres.
Jim Copeland, chief executive of the IHBMA, said the 'general presumption' in the guidelines against large retail centres located adjacent or close to existing, new or planned national roads and motorways contained in the guidelines, is a major step in the right direction.
"Recognition by the Minister that the retail sector is an essential part of the Irish economy and a key element of the vitality and competitiveness of cities, towns and villages throughout the country is very welcome," he said.
"A clear framework in the planning process for the continued development of the retail sector is critical. It is imperative that a strong and competitive retail sector is supported through a pro-active approach in planning, managing and reshaping our cities and towns," he added.