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District Plan

Chapter 11: Neighbourhood Centres

11.1 INTRODUCTION

11.1.1 The provision of neighbourhood centres in Stevenage has its origins in the 1949 Master Plan and is based on the concept of neighbourhood units. Most neighbourhoods have been developed with a main neighbourhood centre and two or more sub-centres. They were developed to meet the day to day needs of local residents, within walking distance of their homes. Thus as the town has been developed, a comprehensive network of neighbourhood centres has been established.

11.1.2 Government guidance is focused on the need for people to be able to meet their everyday needs within their local area, reducing the need to travel and enabling people to walk and cycle to satisfy their needs. In Stevenage the existing neighbourhood centres enable people to meet a number of their daily needs to varying degrees within walking distance. The neighbourhood centres also generally provide access to passenger transport, giving people wider access to the town without having to get into their cars.

11.1.3 As well as providing retail opportunities, many other facilities are provided in and around neighbourhood centres, such as schools, churches, doctors’ surgeries, community centres and open space. Also, some neighbourhood centres provide employment opportunities for small industrial, office and service uses. It is important that a mix of uses is promoted in neighbourhood centres in order to maintain and enhance their use and enable people to live more sustainably.

11.1.4 In order to ensure that substantial new developments continue to meet the needs of their residents and are therefore sustainable, they will be expected to provide neighbourhood centre type facilities commensurate with their scale.

11.1.5 The problems now facing neighbourhood centres derive from the fact that the centres were designed to meet shopping needs at the time the town was developing. Shopping patterns have changed significantly over the last 30 years with the growth in car ownership and consumer durables such as freezers and fridges. These trends have been accompanied by changes in the way retailers provide their goods and by the growth of supermarkets and superstores. These changing shopping patterns have affected the commercial viability of the neighbourhood centres. The development of large supermarkets in the town centre and at out of town locations has had a detrimental effect on convenience food shopping at the neighbourhood centres and in particular on the small local baker, butcher and greengrocer. Fewer people overall are using the neighbourhood centres for their main food shopping. However, the centres are still used by those residents who have difficulty getting into the town centre, or to the new larger facilities.

11.1.6 In addition to providing for day to day shopping needs, the neighbourhood centres also provide specialised retail and service activities. Due to the planned nature of the town centre, there are few secondary retail frontages where such specialist facilities would normally locate. The range of specialist shops in the neighbourhood centres depends on the size and strength of the individual centre. It is also recognised that they can be providers of local services, such as financial and professional services (Class A2), food and drink (Class A3), and individual services such as launderettes and dry cleaners.

11.1.7 There are difficulties arising from competition within the neighbourhood centres. If centres are to survive and provide a range of day to day convenience and general retail facilities, there is a need to ensure that duplication is avoided. In addition to this, policies need to be flexible enough to allow uses within neighbourhood centres to evolve to maintain their vitality and viability.

11.1.8 The Borough Council recognises that because of different sizes and locations of the neighbourhood centres, not all centres perform the same role. The neighbourhood centres have, therefore, been divided into either large centres, which a have a number of units, with a wide range of provision or serve a wider area, or small centres, which have fewer units with a restricted range of goods and services.

11.1.9 When the neighbourhood centre is developed at North East Stevenage, this will be considered a large neighbourhood centre. At Stevenage West it is anticipated that a number of neighbourhood centres will be developed, at least one of which will be considered a large neighbourhood centre.

11.1.10 Most of the neighbourhood centres were developed and managed by the Stevenage Development Corporation and were subsequently passed to the Borough Council as a community asset. The Borough Council is responsible for the management of the majority of these centres and its policy is to provide a “balanced management” approach.

11.2 NEIGHBOURHOOD FACILITIES

11.2.1 In implementing the current policy of “balanced management” of the neighbourhood centres, the primary purpose of these centres is to provide local convenience shopping facilities. This approach seeks to retain certain essential convenience shopping facilities in the centres, whilst also providing general shopping and other facilities needed in the local area.

11.2.2 The role, function and relative importance of neighbourhood centres is changing over time. It is vital that the improvement of a range of everyday shopping, community, housing and employment opportunities is ensured so that the neighbourhood centres continue to meet the needs of the local residents. It is, therefore, proposed that a review of the role of the neighbourhood centres is to be undertaken to establish the future policy approach. This may involve refocusing the role of a neighbourhood centre within the community to ensure its future viability.

11.3 LARGE NEIGHBOURHOOD CENTRES

11.3.1 There are ten large neighbourhood centres: Bedwell Crescent, Marymead, Oaks Cross, The Hyde, The Glebe, The Oval, Poplars, Canterbury Way, Filey Close and Chells Manor. These centres are expected to cater for a full range of shopping and local service needs, to provide employment and housing opportunities and social and community facilities. The Old Town is a large neighbourhood centre, but due to its special character it is dealt with separately in this Plan. .

11.3.2 For large neighbourhood centres to fulfil their essential shopping role, shopping uses (Class A1) should predominate. However, other uses may be considered suitable where they provide a local service such as employment, community uses and housing which do not have a detrimental effect on the principal shopping function or surrounding environment. Where proposals involve the loss of A1 retail floorspace, this should be replaced with a similar amount of A1 floorspace to ensure that the retail role of the neighbourhood centre is maintained.

POLICY NC1: LARGE NEIGHBOURHOOD CENTRES

In the neighbourhood centres listed below, shopping uses (class A1) will predominate. Favourable consideration will be given to proposals which increase the mix of uses such as financial and professional services (class A2), food and drink (class A3), residential, social and community, leisure or business uses where they:

(a) provide a particular local service or additional housing; and
(b) are not detrimental to the principal shopping function; and
(c) do not have a detrimental effect on the surrounding environment.

Large neighbourhood centres

1. Bedwell Crescent
2. The Glebe
3. The Hyde
4. Marymead
5. Oaks Cross
6. The Oval
7. Poplars
8. Canterbury Way
9. Filey Close
10. Chells Manor

Policies SC12, NC4, NC5

11.4 SMALL NEIGHBOURHOOD CENTRES

11.4.1 The small neighbourhood centres in the town have been significantly affected by changing shopping trends and competition from larger centres providing a wider range of local shops, services and facilities. The small centres have a more limited role, are more affected by changes in shopping behaviour and are, therefore, under greater threat from other uses. The Borough Council recognises the importance of retail uses in neighbourhood centres and in promoting a reduction in the need to travel; however, commercial viability is also necessary. It is desirable that such centres still provide an element of convenience shopping to meet basic needs, but where it can be demonstrated that such uses are no longer viable other uses will be considered.

POLICY NC2: SMALL NEIGHBOURHOOD CENTRES

In the following small neighbourhood centres the provision of convenience shopping will be encouraged. However, where it can be demonstrated that such uses are no longer viable other uses will be considered where they:

(a) provide a particular local service or additional housing; and
(b) are not detrimental to the principal shopping function; and
(c) do not have a detrimental effect on the surrounding environment or residential areas.

Small neighbourhood centres:

1. Archer Road
2. Austen Paths
3. Burwell Road
4. Fairview Road
5. Hydean Way
6. Kenilworth Close
7. Lonsdale Road
8. Mobbsbury Way
9. Popple Way
10. Rockingham Way
11. Roebuck
12. Whitesmead Road

11.5 BUSINESS USES WITHIN NEIGHBOURHOOD CENTRES

11.5.1 It was part of the original concept of neighbourhood centres that employment opportunities should be provided for local residents. Some of the neighbourhood centres now provide a range of small units to help accommodate local small businessesto prosper. However, due to their proximity to residential properties, it is necessary to ensure that the uses of these premises are acceptable in terms of their effect on the environment and on the adjacent residential area. It is therefore considered that only business uses (Class B1) are acceptable and not general industrial uses. In addition, because neighbourhood centres are to provide local employment opportunities the use of such units for storage will not be supported.

POLICY NC3: BUSINESS UNITS AT NEIGHBOURHOOD CENTRES

Any land or buildings within the neighbourhood centres will be favourably considered for business uses (class B1) where they:

(a) provide a particular local service; and
(b) do not have a detrimental effect on the surrounding environment or residential areas.

11.6 RESIDENTIAL USES.

11.6.1 In most neighbourhood centres, there is residential accommodation above the retail units. Residential uses in these circumstances provide vitality in neighbourhood centres by having a presence at night, adding to security of the centres. These flats and maisonettes provide a useful type of residential accommodation, which is in short supply in the town and they are, therefore, an important contribution to the housing stock. Although living over shops can cause someraises environmental concernsissues, such as noise disturbance, the loss of such units is unacceptable. This type of accommodation is more suitable for households without children as they usually lack a garden. The Borough Council will consider favourably the subdivision of larger properties above shops into a number of smaller ones.

11.6.2 In a number of the smaller neighbourhood centres retail units have been converted to residential units. This has occurred where there has been a long-term vacancy problem and no other commercial use could be reasonably achieved. In general the Borough Council supports such conversions in small neighbourhood centres.

POLICY NC4: LOSS OF RESIDENTIAL ACCOMMODATION

The loss of residential accommodation above ground floor level in neighbourhood centres will not be permitted.

POLICY NC5: CONVERSION OF SHOP UNITS TO RESIDENTIAL ACCOMMODATION

Favourable consideration will be given to proposals to increase the number of residential units above shops and to convert existing shop units into residential units where it can be demonstrated that retail uses are no longer viable.

11.7 REDEVELOPMENT

11.7.1 The changing trends in retailing may have resulted in increasing problems for the neighbourhood centres. However, their continued vitality and viability is essential to provide local services to promote the Government’s objective of reducing the need to travel. It may be that redevelopment would present the best way to make more efficient use of the land. This will only be acceptable to the Borough Council if the provision of local shopping, other services and facilities are retained. This may also include residential and business uses. Redevelopment should be of a scale in line with providing a local facility rather than a town-wide one.

POLICY NC6: REDEVELOPMENT OF THE NEIGHBOURHOOD CENTRES

Any proposal for the redevelopment of a neighbourhood centre should include provision for the retention of local shopping and other services and facilities appropriate to its catchment area.