AN OVER-SUPPLY of floor space could see council chiefs reduce the size of some areas of the conurbation which are earmarked for retail use.

While a projected increased demand for food and beverage space, the overall drop in comparison retail space – stores selling household goods and clothing – could leave some parts of BCP with empty premises.

The Local Plan issues and options consultation says the “significant need” for sites to accommodate food and drink uses, which was identified in the BCP Retail Study 2021, is “heavily influenced” by a “growing trend” in cafes and restaurants.

The consultation document states the local authority must define a network and hierarchy of centres. This would be used to help direct development to appropriate locations and inform any strategies about the future of each centre, the document says.

The council administration is proposing that Bournemouth and Poole occupy the top designation of ‘sub-regional town centres’, while Christchurch would be categorised in the ‘other town centres’ bracket.

This would be followed by ‘major district centres’, which serve a more local catchment with a wide range of facilities. The document proposes Boscombe, Castlepoint, Upper Parkstone (Ashley Road), Westbourne and Winton for this categorisation.

The next tier down, ‘minor district centres’, features Ashley Cross, Boscombe East, Broadstone, Charminster, Highcliffe, Holdenhurst Road (Springbourne), Kinson, Moordown, Southbourne Grove, Tuckton and Wallisdown.

A further 22 locations are proposed as ‘major local centres’, with a smaller range of shops.

Twenty-six areas makes up the ‘minor local centres’, with 14 in the self-explanatory ‘neighbourhood parades’ bracket.

The hierarchy separates out nine retail parks, which does not include Castlepoint due to its categorisation as a major district centre.

The issues and options document says: “There have been major economic and social changes in the last ten years which have changed the way we shop, affecting patterns of retail development and the development of new types of shops.

"The key areas of change are the rise in internet shopping, the rapid growth of discount retailers, the ‘convenience’ shopping concept, the consolidation of investment into fewer larger centres and an overall decline in the demand for town centre retail floorspace.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has compounded the challenges of town centres further. Numerous businesses including large high street chains have closed or moved to being online businesses, and many premises in town centres now remain vacant.

“Increased online shopping and an increase in home working has accelerated changing shopping patterns and trends.”

Meanwhile, the ‘vibrant centres’ section of the consultation says government rules have left local authorities with less control over the change of use of a shop to other uses, including residential.

It adds that for large units and those in heritage areas, the council retains some options to help manage change.

The two options presented in the consultation are restricting the loss of existing premise over 1,500 square metres in Class E (shops, professional services, restaurants, offices, light industrial, clinics, crèches and gyms) use where it would affect the vitality and vibrancy of a centre, and identify the heritage Conservation Areas where changes of use from Class E to residential would likely have a harmful impact on the character and sustainability of the Conservation Area.

The issues and options consultation is open to feedback, responses and alternative ideas until March 7.

Details can be found online at Residents can view the consultation online, download and print a PDF copy or pick up a summary paper survey from one of the council’s libraries.

Following the issues and options consultation, the council will produce a draft Local Plan, which would go out for public feedback.

The local authority currently expects to submit its Local Plan to the Secretary of State in spring next year before an independent planning inspector examines it in detail in autumn 2023.

If all of these hurdles are cleared, the policy document would be adopted and used to inform decisions on planning applications from early 2024.

Now read more of our coverage of the Local Plan issues and options consultation coverage