Major changes are affecting town, city centres and other urban centres, with dramatic retail changes and high levels of vacant premises. The changing role and nature of retail is generating significant uncertainty, while the full implications and impacts from the period of the COVID -19 pandemic (2020/1 - 2021/2) are not yet known. At the same time, recent changes to planning controls and Use Class Order Amendments are expanding more flexible changes of use away from retail.
Re-imagining and re-purposing town centres and urban centres is essential to enable new economic activities to come forward for consideration, to enable new economic uses to be accommodated and to plan for change over the long-term. Our policy approach is intended to support the vitality of service centres, being flexible and responsive to future changes, and supporting the high-level retail hierarchy. It is intended to set the context for future local plans.
We want to see town and urban centre uses supported with an increased role for a range of leisure facilities, new business uses, new live-work facilities, hospitality and the night economy. It may also require a local level move to review the extent of the primary retail frontage to most effectively protect the remaining retail uses. Consideration will also be needed as to how the challenge of the circular economy is to be addressed.
While this policy focuses on land use matters, there are a range of active measures outside of planning that can be taken to strengthen town and urban centres including promotion, shopper directories, loyalty cards, cultural events and festivals, and shop front renewal schemes, all of which can help generate new footfall into our towns.
The preferred policy approach seeks to provide the local planning authorities with an enabling policy with which to respond quickly to support newly arising economic opportunities in the city and town centres across Oxfordshire. It establishes a framework policy to support long-term action at the local level following the major changes to retail and the hospitality sector accelerated through the COVID period.
Establishing an Oxfordshire-wide framework is judged the right means to enable forward planning by developers in conjunction with the local planning authorities and the local business community and Parish/Town Council affected.
To encourage new dynamism into the central area of each market town (and Oxford's city, district, urban and local centres) and generate new footfall, the Oxfordshire Plan would support the vitality and viability of town centres. At each of the market towns and Oxford City, the Oxfordshire Plan will support the changing nature of our town centres and provide future flexibility to this change, for example, by continuing to support the retail uses, and in addition, supporting new measures including:
New leisure and hospitality uses, including the night-time economy and 'pop up' venues in vacant buildings.
New economic and business uses including where appropriate, new live-work units.
The redevelopment of town centres to make them more visually appealing.
Markets and their facilities, traditional, seasonal and contemporary.
New cultural activities, community uses and the consolidation of civic facilities.Improved walking, cycling and public transport facilities to and from town centres to surrounding residential areas.
Taking account of the role that heritage has to play in creating a sense of place and a dynamic town centre environment.
Taking account of unique, local factors and not taking 'a one-size fits all' approach.
We would encourage the preparation of a town centre strategy between the local planning authority, landowners and businesses to consider challenges and opportunities on a holistic basis and as the means to take local level decisions about the most appropriate boundary of the areas to be devoted to primary and secondary retail, recognising that it may be most effective to reduce the area and consolidate and strengthen the remaining zone.
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