Sequential Test - Clarity At Last?

Author:Mr Murray Shaw
Profession:Biggart Baillie

One area of the economy that appears to have remained relatively buoyant during the downturn is the development of new supermarket facilities in Scotland. This appears to be partly a phenomenon of existing operators seeking to protect (or even increase) market share with a number of new or less established operators (such as Lidl and Waitrose) trying to make inroads into Scotland. The development of new facilities has taken place not just in the larger conurbations within Scotland but in smaller towns which can only support a limited number (sometimes one) sizeable convenience food outlet.

There have been (and remain) significant concerns about the impact of reasonable sized convenience food retail outlets on the "High Street" (particularly if they contain an element of comparison shopping – hardware etc) even if they are situated in the town centre (and frequently they are not – see below). In England the review carried out by Mary Portas highlighted these concerns.

Concerns also exist in Scotland. Scotland has also seen a number of cases involving challenges between rival retail operators intended to protect either an existing outlet or separately a new outlet that they had planned (See our article on "Supermarket Wars").

In Scotland (like England) the siting of supermarkets and indeed other retail outlets has been subject to what is known as the sequential test. This is embodied in Government policy (currently the SPP) and has been embodied for some considerable time having been included in both NPPG8 entitled "Town Centres and Retailing" (the last version of this having been revised in 1998) and SPP8 (Scottish Planning Policy: Town Centres & Retailing) which in itself was replaced by Scottish Planning Policy. As well as being embodied in Government policy the sequential test is usually reflected in Structure Plans (where they exist) and Local Plans (now Strategic Development Plans and Local Development Plans).

In effect the sequential test sets out a hierarchy of preferred locations for retail development. Town centres are indentified as the first and preferred choice followed by edge of centre sites, then out of centre sites. The sequential test requires the prospective developer to assess whether or not there is a suitable location higher in the hierarchy as part of the necessary process of site selection when seeking to promote a site that is lower in the hierarchy. In other words a developer who wants to promote an out of centre...

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