Thanet's New Local Plan - Options consultation

Issue 4 - How should Thanet's town centres develop?


Why do we need to address this issue?

Town centres play an important role in the economy and the community as a whole and often reflect how the wider economy is performing. It is important that the Local Plan sets out a clear strategy for their growth and development. Thanet's coastal town centres are in need of a strategy that facilitates mutually supportive growth.

National planning policy recognises the importance of town centres and a core principle of the NPPF is ensuring their vitality and viability. It requires us to recognise town centres as the heart of communities and pursue policies to support their viability and vitality. In order to do so national policy requires us to:

  • define a network and hierarchy of centres;
  • define the extent of town centres and primary shopping areas and set polices to make clear which uses will be permitted in such locations
  • allocate a range of suitable sites to meet the needs for all town centre uses, including residential and this should not be compromised by limited site availability;
  • include policies for the consideration of proposals for main town centre uses which cannot be accommodated in or adjacent to town centres;
  • promote competitive town centres that provide customer choice and a diverse retail offer and which reflect the individuality of town centres;
  • recognise that residential development can play an important role in ensuring the vitality of centres; and
  • plan positively for the future of town centres that are in decline in order to encourage economic activity.

What evidence we have on this issue

The Town Centre Assessment 2012[1] provides an assessment of retail need, a commercial leisure assessment and an assessment of tourism and cultural uses across Thanet looking at existing facilities and the requirements of Thanet to 2031. The Employment Topic Paper also contains evidence on this issue.

Key Facts and Information

The following key facts and information are important when considering the future of the town centres in Thanet.

Town centres have been in decline for reasons including the global recession, success of internet shopping and the rationalisation of retailing. Many retailers are choosing to serve larger catchments from a single location with a larger scale store. Thanet has not been immune to this decline and the traditional coastal town centres of Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate have experienced high vacancy rates.

Westwood Cross opened as a new town centre in June 2005. Its purpose was to 'claw back' expenditure lost to Canterbury and beyond. An Expenditure Survey carried out in 2000 showed that the District was losing approximately £100 million in retail expenditure outside Thanet. Westwood Cross delivers the larger scale premises in a single location that retailers now seek and a range of national multiples not previously seen in Thanet have located here. Westwood Cross has proved successful in retaining shopping spend within the District. At 2000 we only retained 53.4% of shopping spend and this has now improved to 84% for High Street goods and 98% for food shopping[2]

National planning policy requires that commercial town centre development should be located in existing town centres. Where this is not possible it should be accommodated on suitable edge of centre sites. Where that is not possible the need should be met in other accessible locations that are well connected to the town centre. This is called the sequential approach.

Town centre uses are defined by the National Planning Policy Framework as

  • retail development (including warehouse clubs and factory outlet centres)
  • leisure, entertainment facilities, the more intensive sport and recreation uses (including cinemas, restaurants, bars and pubs, night-clubs, casinos, health and fitness centres, indoor bowling centres, and bingo halls)
  • offices
  • arts, culture and tourism development (including theatres, museums, galleries and concert halls, hotels and conference facilities)

Role of the town centres (hierarchy)

We are required by national planning policy to set out a network and hierarchy of centres. Identifying the existing hierarchy allows us to understand the role and function of the town centres and their inter-relationship. A major factor in determining the role of the centres is the catchment which they serve.

The role and hierarchy of the centres is set out below:

Westwood - This centre sits at the top of the hierarchy as it caters for high order need, attracts the major national retailers and has a catchment that includes the population of the whole of Thanet as well as areas beyond the District boundary, attracting people from outside the District.

The Coastal Town Centres - Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate. The catchments of these town centres are their individual town populations and tourist trade with a wide range of shops to cater for everyday need, special interest and the tourist trade. These towns have traditionally attracted national retailers and services as well as local businesses.

District Centres - Cliftonville, Westgate, Birchington and Minster. These centres cater for local needs and services. They serve large residential and semi rural locations but catchments are limited and these locations are not appropriate for large scale retail development.

Local Centres - Several across the District such as Westbrook and St Peters. These cater for a more restricted local need and tend to have a small catchment. These centres provide services such as takeaways, hairdressers and small convenience stores. Business is often local rather than the national multiples. These centres are not appropriate for large scale retail development.


Retail Need

In order to provide and adequately plan for town centre development it is essential to identify the need for the different uses. Assessing future town centre need is also a national planning policy requirement. When devising a strategy for the town centres we have to consider how we can accommodate this need including considering whether to increase or decrease the size of the town centre boundaries.

National growth rates along with information about local spending habits, obtained through a telephone survey in 2012, have been used to estimate the need for retail development to 2031.

The assessment concluded the following additional need for food (convenience) shopping floorspace (gross) over the period 2011 to 2031:

  • There is very little need in the District for more food shopping floorspace. Only 3,941 sq.m by 2031.
  • There is no need for any additional food floorspace at Westwood and Broadstairs until after 2021.
  • There is no need for any additional food floorspace at Ramsgate until after 2026.
  • Birchington and Westgate together have a small need of further 192 sq.m by 2016 increasing to 510 sq.m by 2031.

The assessment concluded the following additional need for high street (comparison) goods floorspace over the period 2011 and 2031:

  • The need at Westwood Cross is small at 448 sq.m by 2016 but increases to 7,459 sq.m by 2021, 16,487 sq.m by 2026 and 27,870 sq.m by 2031.
  • Broadstairs has a need for a further 4,091 sq.m by 2031.
  • Elsewhere there is very little need for additional floorspace for high street goods.
  • To further ‘claw back’ retail spend by increasing the market share of Westwood, would result in the need for an additional 9,603 sq.m of high street goods floorspace by 2031 in addition to the 27,870 sq.m identified above.

Other retail uses

The Town Centre Assessment recommends that over and above identified retail floorspace need, a further 20% should be provided to accommodate restaurants, cafes, takeaways and drinking establishments, as well as financial and professional services, showing that:

  • There is a need for 9,500 sq.m of such floorspace across the District at 2031.
  • Reflecting the retail need, the greatest need is at Westwood, with Ramsgate and Margate having a much smaller need.

Commercial Leisure

The Town Centre Assessment showed there is no quantitative need for additional commercial leisure development, including cinemas and bowling alleys, over the plan period. However given the potential of the visitor economy in Thanet, further provision could be supported.

Vacancy rates at 2012

Table 5 shows the amount of vacant floorspace in the town centres in 2012.

Table 5 - Vacant floorspace compared to floorspace need (constant market share) by 2031 in the Town Centres (2012)


Current Vacant Floorspace sq.m

Total Floorspace Need to 2031 sq.m














District and local centres

District and local centres perform an important role in the retail hierarchy catering for basket and top up shopping in sustainable locations often in walking distance from people's homes. The Local Plan 2006 aims to maintain provision in these centres at an appropriate level and this is reflected in Policy TC8 which says that proposals for additional shopping provision will be permitted where they meet a local need, widen the choice and quality of facilities and are of an appropriate scale. An appropriate scale was considered to be no more than 1000 sq.m.

Primary and Secondary Frontages

National Policy says that the Local Plan has to define Primary[3] and Secondary[4] frontages within the Town Centre boundaries and decide what uses are appropriate in each.

Thanet's current planning policy allows shops, financial and professional services, restaurants, cafes, drinking establishments and hot food takeaways in the Primary Shopping Frontages (as currently defined in the Thanet Local Plan 2006). It is also supportive of leisure, culture, heritage and tourism uses in these frontages. The Thanet Local Plan 2006 does not identify a secondary frontage policy for the town centres.

Considering How Thanet's Town Centres Should Develop

The future role of the town centres

We need to consider whether the existing role of the centres remains appropriate for their future development, and ensure they are resilient to anticipated future economic changes.

The role of the coastal towns in providing for people's everyday needs

Evidence from the Retail Needs Assessment Survey 2009 and the Town Centre Assessment 2012 shows that most people do their food shopping at the large supermarkets located around Westwood. There are however benefits in terms of sustainability of food shopping need being met within the town where people live. An option for consideration is increasing the role of the coastal towns in their provision of food shopping. Providing such provision in the coastal towns would result in additional people visiting the towns on a regular basis to fulfil their everyday needs. This could have the effect of increasing footfall in the towns and supporting other shops and businesses, further supporting the objectives of the continued regeneration of the coastal towns. If this option were considered appropriate, it may result in the need to identify specific sites or land for allocation.

We have considered whether this would also be appropriate in relation to high street comparison goods. However, food shopping catchment areas are much smaller than the catchment areas for high street goods. Increasing the role of the coastal towns for high street goods would result in catchments that would overlap and compete with each other, and for this reason large scale retail development in the coastal towns is unlikely to be viable. This implies that to support the objectives for the coastal towns, their future role should be to develop with a diversity of uses, including tourism, cultural and leisure uses, to complement the higher order retail need provided at Westwood and also to support the visitor economy.

Westwood's role

An option considered in the Town Centre Assessment is reinforcing the role of Westwood in the sub-region. The Assessment looked at what level of floorspace would be needed if we were to increase market share for high street goods. This assumes that people who live in Thanet at present and still shop outside of the District, primarily at Canterbury, would shop at Westwood instead. The potential for this may be greater if Westwood becomes more attractive and accessible. This option should not result in additional competition for the coastal town centres but rather claw back shopping spend that is currently lost to areas outside Thanet's district boundary. If this were to be proposed, there would be a much greater need to provide for shopping floorspace at Westwood (an additional 9,603 sq.m). In considering the merits of this option it is relevant that Thanet's current retention rates are particularly good when comparing them to other towns.

The need for other Retail Uses

With regard to the need for uses such as restaurants, cafes and drinking establishments, the Town Centre Assessment concludes that an additional 20% of the floorspace identified for retail need should be provided for these uses. This reflects the typical composition of town centres.

At Westwood this results in a significant amount of additional floorspace due to the amount of need identified for retail development. It therefore may not be appropriate to plan for this amount of additional floorspace for such uses at Westwood. However, these uses play an important role in attracting tourists to the town centres and are therefore particularly important for the coastal towns.

How do we accommodate the need for retail development

Margate and Ramsgate have a high level of vacant commercial premises in their town centres. This is nearly enough vacant floorspace to meet the retail need identified for these towns until 2031, although there may be the need for some reconfiguration or redevelopment to make this suitable for future occupiers. This is not the case at Westwood and Broadstairs where vacancy rates are much lower. It will therefore be necessary in these towns to consider specific allocation of sites to accommodate the need.

The Town Centre Assessment suggested that the floorspace requirements at Broadstairs could be accommodated at Westwood due to space constraints within and around Broadstairs town centre.

At Westwood, within the existing commercial areas[5] there are opportunities for redevelopment and potential reconfiguration of the retail areas in order to accommodate the need for development. It is important to note there are also existing planning permissions (totalling approx 20,000 sq.m), including the redevelopment of Sainsbury's at Westwood that will meet some, but not all, of the retail need.

Commercial Leisure Development and tourism and cultural uses

It is clear from the assessment that Thanet does not have a quantitative need for further major commercial leisure development and arts and cultural uses. However it is also necessary to consider qualitative factors such as regeneration and the need to increase the attraction of the towns for visitors by providing year round facilities, including creative and cultural facilities. Whilst it might not be appropriate to allocate specific sites for such development, the plan could adopt a flexible approach to enable such developments to be considered favourably if they did come forward.

District and Local Centres

When looking at District and Local Centres the current local plan policy envisages that any new retail shops within these centres should be local shops, to serve the local catchment of the particular centre. It was recognised that there may be a need for local food stores that may be larger than other local shops, but these should have a maximum floorspace of 1000 square metres. The role of the District and Local Centres is still considered important and an option is the continuation of this approach.

Primary and Secondary Frontages

Traditionally planning guidance has discouraged uses other than retail within the core areas of town centres. This is no longer a requirement of national policy and we must now propose what uses we consider to be appropriate.

We can use the required definitions of primary and secondary frontages to try and shape the future of the town centres, identifying where we consider the focus of the town centres should be and what uses we want to see in them.

Given the nature of the Coastal town centres and their role in attracting tourism growth it may be appropriate to allow a greater range of town centre uses within the core town centre. Allowing an element of residential would also add footfall and vitality to the town centres.

Determining planning applications for town centre development which is proposed outside of a town centre

National planning policy requires us to set policies for the consideration of proposals for main town centre uses which cannot be accommodated in or adjacent to town centres.

It requires impact tests to be carried out for all town centre development proposed outside of town centres and not in accordance with a development plan. If a local threshold for this impact test is not set then the NPPF suggests a 2,500 sq.m threshold. As development should be appropriate in terms of scale and nature to the centre in which it is located, the Town Centre Assessment considered this issue for Thanet and concludes that impact tests should be applied at the following thresholds for Thanet's towns:

  • Westwood Cross, Margate and Ramsgate - 1000 sqm
  • Broadstairs, Cliftonville, Birchington and Westgate - 500 sqm
  • Everywhere else in the District - 280 sqm

The recommendation states that that this should apply to all edge and out of centre food and non food retail proposals. The assessment states that developments in local parades and centres should primarily serve the community within which it is located and therefore catchment areas should not be more than 800 metres.

An example of applying the above impact thresholds would mean that outside of the town centre boundary in Margate but within the Margate area any development over 1000 sq.m would need to apply an impact test.


1. Town centre Retail, Leisure, Tourism and Cultural Assessment 2012 (produced by Nathaniel Litchfield and Partners, commissioned by Thanet District Council) [back]
2. Given factors such as the level of internet shopping nationally these latest figures are probably a best case scenario [back]
3. Primary frontages are likely to include a high proportion of retail uses which may include food, drinks, clothing and household goods (NPPF) [back]
4. Secondary frontages provide greater opportunity for a diversity of use such as restaurants, cinemas and businesses (NPPF) [back]
5. The existing commercial area comprises the main Westwood Cross Shopping and Leisure Development, the Former Grupo Antolin site and Sainsburys superstore, Westwood Gateway Retail Park, Westwood and East Kent Retail Parks, DFS, Former Westwood School and Fire Station sites, Tesco Extra, and Broadstairs Retail Park. [back]