7.2 Retailing and Town Centres

Dúntadate_range16 D.F., 2019, 9:30am - 11 Nol, 2019, 5:00pm


7.2.1Our town centres are important hubs for a wide range of land uses and activities that are important to those who live in, work in and visit them. While they are a focus for retailing and related facilities, they also accommodate residential, employment, leisure and cultural uses. Our LDP has a key part to play in supporting the diversity and vitality of our town centres and contributing to their success.

7.2.2Ballymena is identified in the RDS as a ‘main hub’ and recognised as having a well-established sub-regional role, particularly as a significant retail centre. Larne is identified in the RDS as a ‘main hub’ and a ‘gateway’ due to its strategic coastal location and its status as the second largest port in Northern Ireland. The location of the town on the Causeway Coastal Route has the potential to grow tourism and increase the vitality and prosperity of the town centre. Carrickfergus is a key coastal location within the Belfast Metropolitan Urban Area (BMUA). With a vibrant marina, waterfront development and historic castle it has significant tourism potential, assisted by good transport links with Belfast and Scotland via Larne and also its location on the Causeway Coastal Route. Carrickfergus has a complementary role to play within the BMUA and therefore it is important for the town to widen its economic base. The potential for tourism growth provides some opportunity to strengthen the town centre economy.

7.2.3The retail sector in Mid and East Antrim, as elsewhere, has been faced with a range of challenges. These include changing consumer and lifestyle trends that require the retail sector to adapt, the rise in electronic commerce and internet shopping, competition from out of town shopping centres/retail parks, and the change in fortunes of the general economy which can have a dampening effect on retail spending.

7.2.4Accordingly, it is vital to keep our town centres economically competitive and vibrant and able to offer an experience over and above an average functional shopping trip, which might otherwise be carried out online or at out of town retail parks. The emphasis in the LDP on promoting diversification of uses within our town centres and making them more attractive, viable and sustainable, supports the delivery of the economic and social aspects of our Community Plan.

7.2.5The SPPS aims to support and sustain vibrant town centres through the promotion of established town centres, as the appropriate first choice location of retailing and other complementary functions, identifying six regional strategic objectives (paragraph 6.271) intended to secure this aim.

Policy Aims

7.2.6The LDP strategic approach to retailing and town centres is set out in our policy aims below. These policy aims fully embrace the above-mentioned regional strategic objectives and guidelines for LDPs set out in the SPPS.

  • To protect and sustain the vitality and viability of our established town centres so they can perform at their maximum potential in meeting the needs of citizens and visitors and contributing to the economy of Mid and East Antrim;
  • To promote established town centres as the appropriate first choice location of retailing and other main town centre uses;
  • To adopt a sequential approach to the identification of sites for retailing and main town centre uses;
  • To minimise the impacts of out of centre retailing on town centres;
  • To protect and enhance diversity in the range of town centre uses;
  • To meet local day-to-day needs in villages and small settlements appropriate to their role and function; and
  • To prevent inappropriate retail development in the countryside.


7.2.7The policy aims will be delivered primarily through the strategic policies set out in the remainder of this section. For the purposes of these policies references to ‘retail’ uses include those which fall within Use Class A1 – Shops, as defined in The Planning (Use Classes) Order (NI) 2015.

7.2.8Office uses appropriate to town centres include financial and professional services (Use Class A2), and Class B1 Business uses, as defined in the Order. Other town centre uses include pubs, restaurants and cafes, cultural and community facilities, and town centre housing.

7.2.9In addition to the retail and town centre policies, the LDP will promote diversity in the range of town centre uses through housing policy to protect established town centre housing (Policy HOU4 Protected Town Centre Housing Areas)and economic development policy to facilitate Class B1 business uses in town centres (Policy ECD1 Economic Development in Settlements).

7.2.10Town centre health checks will be regularly reviewed (at least once every five years) to maintain an up-to-date and robust evidence base.

7.2.11A 'Call for Sites' consultation exercise will be undertaken at Local Policies Plan stage to identify suitable mixed use development opportunity sites to meet identified needs. The spatial extent of the town centres will also be reviewed at LPP stage.

7.2.12In order to ensure high quality and otherwise satisfactory forms of development, all applications for retail development or main town centre uses will be assessed in accordance with the LDP General Policy criteria.

Policy RET1 Retail in Town Centres

Proposals for retail development will be permitted within the town centre26 (where defined). For other locations, a sequential approach to site selection will be applied in the following order of preference:

  1. Edge of Town Centre boundary (i.e. adjoining it or within 300m); and
  2. Out of centre locations (i.e. outside the town centre boundary but within settlement limits) where sites are accessible by walking, cycling and public transport.

Proposals for other town centre uses (cultural and community facilities, leisure, entertainment and businesses) shall also follow the sequential order a) to b).

There will be a presumption to refuse a retail application outside of these locations unless the applicant can demonstrate that:

  1. Alternative sites within these locations are either not suitable, not viable or not available (or any combination thereof), and;
  2. There is a qualitative and/or quantitative need for the proposal, and;
  3. There will be no significant adverse impact on the town centre(s) within the catchment area.

All proposals must meet the General Policy and accord with other provisions of the LDP.

Justification and Amplification

7.2.13Protecting and sustaining the viability and vitality of the established town centres and their promotion as the appropriate first choice location of retailing and other complementary town centre functions is a key tenet of regional planning policy. Council also expects to see town centres performing to their maximum potential in meeting the needs of citizens and visitors and contributing to the local economy.

7.2.14Proposals for retail and other town centre uses27 will therefore only be considered outside the town centre when the sequential test has been undertaken. Preference will be given to edge of centre land before considering an out of centre site provided it has been demonstrated that there is a need for the retail provision and that there will be no significant adverse impact on the existing centre.

7.2.15The assessment of need should incorporate a quantitative and/or qualitative assessment taking account of the needs of the local town, committed development proposals, and allocated sites. A qualitative assessment considers the quality of goods, services or retail environment on offer and whether the proposed development, if warranted could transform it. A quantitative assessment is a numerical exercise to analyse whether there is a floorspace need for particular types of retail goods or services within a specific town.

7.2.16For clarity, edge of centre means a location that is well connected to and within easy walking distance of the town centre. In determining whether a site falls within the definition of edge of centre, account should be taken of local circumstances such as barriers, for example crossing major roads, carparks, attractiveness and safety and size of the town centre. A site would not be well connected where it is physically separated by barriers such as a railway line, busy road or lack of pedestrian access.

7.2.17Where it is established that an alternative sequentially preferable site or sites exist within the catchment area of the proposed development, an application which proposes development on a less sequentially preferred site will normally be refused. Where it is argued that no other sequentially preferable sites are appropriate, the applicant must demonstrate why such sites are not practical alternatives in terms of their “availability, suitability and viability”.

  • Availability - The applicant will be required to submit evidence of any insurmountable legal or ownership problems such as unresolved multiple ownerships, ransom strips, tenancies or operational requirements of landowners that render the site unavailable.
  • Suitability - The appropriateness and likely market attractiveness for the type, scale and form of development proposed. There will be a requirement to consider flexibility in the format and scale of the development proposed for the city centre and other centres.
  • Viability - A viability assessment should include the land/site value as a key consideration as to whether development is economically viable. In order to determine applications a realistic understanding of the costs and the value of the development in the local area, as well as the prevailing market conditions, should be submitted. The timing of the assessment will be dependent on the nature and scale of the development proposed.

Policy RET2 Retail Impact Assessment

All applications including extensions for retail development and town centre uses above the thresholds identified below, must be accompanied by a Retail Impact Assessment (RIA) where the proposal is located outside the town centre.

  • Above 750sq. m gross external area outside Ballymena and Larne Town Centre
  • Above 500sq. m gross external area outside Carrickfergus Town Centre and small towns

In the case of small towns, an assessment of retail impact is required in relation to the relevant Main Town centre within its catchment area

Outside town centres, permission may be granted for a small scale convenience shop which do not exceed 100sq. m gross external area, where it can be demonstrated that:

  1. it meets a defined local need which cannot be met within an existing centre; and
  2. it will not adversely affect the vitality and viability of existing centres within its catchment.

The Retail Impact Assessment should provide a proportionate response to the proposal being sought and should incorporate an assessment of need, impact and the sequential approach.

Justification and Amplification

7.2.18A Retail Impact Assessment is a report that is prepared to support a planning application for the provision of a significant retail development. A Retail Impact Assessment analyses the location of the proposed development within its physical and planning policy context. This document identifies the catchment area/population, expenditure available and assesses the performance of retail centres within the catchment. It will also analyse the proposed location and demonstrate whether it complies with the requirements of the sequential test.

7.2.19As the average unit size in Ballymena and Larne town centres in 2018 was 263sq. m and 202sq. m respectively, the proposed RIA threshold of 750sq. m gross external area is deemed to be appropriate and in keeping with the existing scale of retail development in these towns. The average unit size in Carrickfergus in 2018 was 187sq. m so the proposed RIA threshold of 500sq. m gross external area is deemed appropriate.

7.2.20Local shops can deliver an important service for the community by providing locally accessible, every day shopping needs. By their very nature, local shops are small scale convenience shops, often providing a secondary ‘top-up’ shopping function.

7.2.21Refer to paragraph 6.290 of the SPPS to view the factors to be addressed in a Retail Impact Assessment.

Policy RET3 Retail in Villages, Small Settlements and Local Centres

A proposal for retail development within a village, small settlement or local centre will be permitted provided:

  1. it is to meet a local need and which helps to sustain local communities; and
  2. it is keeping with the scale nature and design appropriate to the character of the settlement or centre.

All proposals must meet the General Policy and accord with other provisions of the LDP.

Justification and Amplification

7.2.22Village and local centres perform an important role in serving the local day-to-day needs of people living in rural areas as well as providing a sense of community. Limited additional convenience shops may be acceptable where they serve a local community need. In small settlements, the presence of a small convenience shop, for example, can be a life line for local people who have limited or no access to transport. Our villages and small settlements act to support and sustain rural communities and indigenous industries, such as the agri-business base. In all cases, the scale, form and design of any proposed retail development shall be appropriate to the character and size of the settlement.

Policy RET4 Rural Shops and Roadside Service Facilities

Rural Shops

There will be a general presumption against the development of retail facilities in the countryside.

However, a proposal for a new or extended shop in the countryside (outside settlement limits) may be considered on its merits where:

  1. It is of modest floorspace and is largely incorporated within the existing building; and
  2. It falls into one of the following retail types:
    • farm shops;
    • craft shops; or
    • shops serving tourist or recreational facilities.

Roadside Service Facilities

Development of roadside service facilities in the open countryside will only be accepted if:

  1. there is a clear indication of need and no unacceptable adverse impact upon the viability and vitality of an existing centre within the retail catchment; and
  2. a new proposal is located along a motorway or a high standard dual carriageway at least 12 miles from an existing or approved roadside service facility located on the strategic road network; and
  3. there is no prejudice to road safety; and
  4. new retail floorspace or extension to existing retail floorspace will be modest and ancillary to the selling of fuel. Office uses will not be permitted.

All proposals must meet the General Policy and accord with other provisions of the LDP.

Justification and Amplification

7.2.23In keeping with the ‘Town Centre first approach’, retailing will be directed to the town centres and the development of inappropriate retail facilities in the countryside will be resisted. However, some retail facilities may be considered appropriate outside of settlement limits such as farm or craft shops, shops serving tourist or recreational facilities or shops ancillary to petrol filling stations. Such retail facilities should mostly be contained within existing buildings and there must be no unacceptable adverse impact on the viability and vitality of an existing centre within the catchment.

7.2.24Proposals for roadside service facilities are usually linked to the selling of petrol. It is considered reasonable to expect a driver to travel at least 12 miles along a motorway or high standard dual carriageway before reaching a petrol filling station or service centre. Proposals for the development of new service facilities within 12 miles of an existing petrol station or service centre will therefore not be permitted, as the route is considered to be already adequately served. However, a proposal for the extension of facilities at an existing or approved filling station may be considered where it is of modest in size and ancillary to the selling of fuel. The increase of stand-alone retail units such as fast food units, florists and off-licenses are often associated with larger petrol filling station development and has the potential to have a negative impact on the viability of existing retail provision offered within our town centres. Therefore, the Council considers that proposals for extensions to such retail floorspace must be of such a scale and nature so as not to cause a significant impact on other centres. Office uses will not be permitted, other than those considered ancillary to the retail unit or the selling of fuel, such as a manager’s office. Proposals including a petrol brand totem pole signs must comply with Policy AD1 The Control of Advertisements.

7.2.25Development proposals likely to prejudice road safety or the free flow of traffic on a strategic route will not be permitted.

7.2.26The General Policy criteria relating to rural development will be important in the assessment of proposals for rural shops and roadside service facilities and associated car parking, in order to ensure satisfactory integration into the landscape.

  • 26 - Policy will apply to town centre boundaries as defined in existing plans until such times as they may be amended through the adopted Local Policies Plan.
  • 27 - Includes cultural and community facilities, retail, leisure, entertainment and businesses.

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