- The Local Plan and the Spatial Strategy
- Planning policies to guide development
- Sites for development
- Chapter 1: A Spatial Strategy for Watford
- Chapter 2: Core Development Area
- Chapter 3: Homes for a Growing Community
- Chapter 4: A Strong Economy
- Chapter 5: A Vibrant Town
- Chapter 6: An Attractive Town
- Chapter 7: The Historic Environment
- Chapter 8: A Climate Emergency
- Chapter 9: Conserving and Enhancing the Environment
- Chapter 10: Infrastructure
- Chapter 11: A Sustainable Travel Town
- Chapter 12: A Healthy Community
- Chapter 13: Site Allocations and New Development
Watford Final Draft Local Plan 2018-2036
Chapter 5: A Vibrant Town
A Vibrant Town
Figure 5.1: Watford Town, District and Local Centres
5.1 Watford has a strongly performing Town Centre, with St Albans Road District Centre supporting by also offering a wide range of services and facilities. In addition, there is a network of Local Centres that provide for much of their communities' day-to-day needs. The approach for the Plan is to build on these strengths and focus growth in these centres, providing retail, leisure and entertainment for all ages and groups of people. Protecting smaller centres will help ensure built up areas in the borough have good access to services and facilities and contribute towards achieving sustainable development.
5.2 The opportunity to participate in activities, whether for recreation, community events or learning, is important for people living in and visiting Watford. The availability of a variety of facilities and shops attracts people to the Town and Local Centres (Figure 5.1) and helps them remain dynamic and vibrant.
5.3 Watford, as a sub-regional centre, serves residents of the town and beyond, drawing people from throughout South West Hertfordshire. The vibrancy and vitality of the Town Centre will be maintained and enhanced through the plan period, providing the opportunity to access a wide range of 'town centre uses' (as identified in the National Planning Policy Framework) including retail, leisure, entertainment, office, arts and culture. These functions are vital to long- term sustainability and underpinning Watford as an attractive place to live, work and invest.
5.4 Continued vitality in these areas can reduce the need to travel, by providing goods and services in easily accessible locations and allowing combined trips. This encourages sustainability and creates opportunities for focal points within residential areas, particularly those with the potential to support higher housing densities.
The changing nature of retail in Watford
5.5 Watford has a successful town centre but the Local Plan also recognises that the retail environment is changing with traditional retail declining and service sectors, such as food and drink, health and fitness, and hotels increasing. This highlights the importance of retaining flexibility in retail policy to encourage footfall with popular uses, such as leisure and food and drink.
5.6 The nature of our Town Centre and, to a lesser extent, Local Centres is continuing to evolve. Increasingly they are becoming hubs for leisure, social and community activities, not just for shopping. Retaining flexibility in retail policy to encourages footfall, ensuring centres remain vibrant while continuing to meet the needs of people that use them. The council is seeking to enhance the offer for families in the town and create a balanced centre that meets the needs of all residents and users at different times of the day and night. New proposals for cultural and social uses will be encouraged as appropriate town centre uses that can add vibrancy and activity. It is anticipated that a building may be in a number of different uses concurrently or at different times of the day.
5.7 The Town, District and Local Centres play a critical role in place making. To support this, developers will be expected to maximise the proportion of ground floors in town centre uses, fronting on to streets or public spaces that are active, by taking steps to reduce the amount of blank frontage and space given over to building servicing and management, such as bin stores and plant. Proposals must ensure that units are accessible and designed to the highest quality, considering how proportions, materials and detailing relate to, and complement, their surroundings.
5.8 Where opportunities arise to develop new centres or to enhance existing local shops to perform as Local Centres, some limited additional retail development may be acceptable, subject to the Sequential and Impact Tests.
National policy sets out a 'town centre first' approach through the Sequential Test adopted for the delivery of new retail and other town centre uses. This means that such uses should be located in central locations first to ensure the continued vitality and viability of those town centre locations. Town centre uses should be delivered in the following order of preference:
- Locations within the Town Centre;
- Edge of centre locations, with preference given to those sites which are or will be well connected to the town centre;
- Local Centres.
Where appropriate the Local Planning Authority will support applicants in undertaking a proportionate and appropriate sequential test. This should consider whether there is scope for flexibility in the format and /or scale of the proposal and assess the contribution more central sites are able to make individually to accommodate the proposal.
5.9 There are a number of out-of-centre retail parks in Watford. These generally provide for shops selling large value items, less suitable for Town Centre locations. They are generators of car travel and are poorly integrated into their surroundings. Redevelopment of these sites, such as Waterfields and Lower High Street, should make a better use of land by providing new residential development alongside appropriate retail that is easily accessible and well integrated with the surrounding area. Redevelopment of these sites could also provide an opportunity to reassess the transport network in the vicinity, securing improvements to public transport, cycling and walking. Consolidation of retail floor space in such locations may be appropriate to support additional economic spend or investment in the Town Centre, Watford's primary retail destination.
5.10 This chapter should be read in conjunction with the Town Centre Strategic Development Policy CDA2.2 'Town Centre Strategic Development Area'.
Strategic Policy VT5.1: Supporting Vibrant Retail Centres
Planning permission will be granted for the development of town centre uses (retail, leisure, entertainment, office, arts and culture) within the defined Town, District and Local Centre boundaries, providing the use is appropriate for the scale and function of each centre. Development within these boundaries should contribute towards the enhancement of the public realm.
Alongside new homes, Watford Town Centre will remain the focus for; comparison shopping, leisure, entertainment, civic and cultural activities. Development proposals within the Town Centre that are 'family friendly' will be encouraged.
To ensure the long-term vitality and viability of the Town Centre, the Council will apply a 'Town Centre first' approach to proposals for retail, leisure, cultural facilities and other town centre uses.
Proposals that optimise the use of land and floorspace within the Town Centre, through mixed-use development, including new or re-used space above shops and commercial premises, will be supported, providing they have regard to the role and function of the centre, impact on vitality and viability and the compatibility of proposed and existing surrounding uses.
Outside the Town Centre
Where appropriate, a limited amount of retail development will be supported on strategic sites to provide for the new community, subject to: compliance with the Sequential Test; proposals being of an appropriate scale; provision of good accessibility by walking, cycling or public transport; and there being no significant adverse impact on the vitality and viability of the Town Centre or Local Centres in the vicinity.
District and Local Centres
The vitality and viability of the District and Local Centres will be enhanced to provide local goods and services for local communities. Proposals that optimise the use of land and floorspace within the District and Local Centres, through mixed-use development, including new or re-used space above shops and commercial premises, will be supported, providing they have regard to the role and function of the centre, impact on vitality and viability, including that of existing business, and the compatibility of proposed and existing surrounding uses.
5.11 The retail hierarchy focuses town centre uses that, generate high footfall in accessible locations for those working, living and visiting Watford (Table 5.1). It is important that new retail development takes place in the right locations and at an appropriate scale. Watford's retail hierarchy will be used to direct town centre uses to the most appropriate location, with regard to their scale, function and character. The Town Centre will be the preferred location for these uses.
5.12 It is acknowledged that 'walk-to' Local Centres can help provide premises for small-scale manufacturing or shared working premises, where businesses may wish to sell their produce. These uses can help to serve the needs of the local community and improve the function by increasing footfall in the area. Proposals for these uses will be supported, but will be considered against the policy criteria.
Watford Town Centre
Watford Town Centre performs a role as a regional centre, with its catchment extending beyond the borough boundary. The centre offers a full range of town centre uses, including: retail, leisure, business, community and cultural facilities.
St Albans Road
St Albans Road District Centre contains a good range of town centre uses, including a large public library. The District Centre has a smaller catchment than the Town Centre, but a wider draw and a larger number and range of units than the Local Centres.
Garston Park Parade
St Johns Road
Whippendell Road East
Whippendell Road / Ascot Road
Local Centres include a range of small shops, meeting the day-to-day needs of a small catchment area. It is expected that Local Centres will also contain facilities, such as GPs, dentists, dry cleaners and community facilities, to support the retail offer. Typically, Local Centres are categorised as being over seven units, with a range of at least three different uses.
Watford Town Centre
5.13 Given the scale of development envisaged within Watford over the plan period, the rapidly changing economic market and the way people are increasingly using town centres to socialise, it will be important for proposals to be designed to be sufficiently flexible to allow for changing conditions and needs. Proposals that allow for varying size requirements, for example, by providing for expansion through the future creation of mezzanines, or the subdivision / amalgamation of units, will be supported. Consideration should also be given to future-proofed design that allows for units to readily change uses. This flexibility should be demonstrated as part of a planning application submission.
5.14 It is acknowledged that there may be instances where some loss of floorspace contributes towards achieving wider objectives, such as the redevelopment of the site, or improving access to upper levels. In such cases, ground floor units should remain of a size and scale that is viable to current or future occupants and the access to upper levels be designed so as not to undermine the activity and function of the frontage.
5.15 The South West Herts Retail and Leisure Study (2018) recognises the prominent position of Watford Town Centre, whilst also acknowledging the need to broaden the offer to include a wider range of leisure and cultural activities. No specific allocations are required to meet any leisure capacity identified within Watford, however, such facilities should be promoted, providing that such uses would not adversely impact the operation or function of existing retail provision and the vitality and viability of the town centre.
5.16 Other uses, such as employment and residential, would be appropriate on upper floors, however, access must be designed to promote street level activity and not undermine the viability of ground floor units or interrupt the active frontages.
Learning and non-residential institutions
5.17 These uses (class F1) are acceptable in the Town Centre, however, it is important that they do not negatively impact on the function. It is acknowledged that large numbers of people travel to large-scale attractor uses at a specific time; applications will need to demonstrate that such uses would have no negative impact on the transport network. In addition, uses that remain closed for large portions of the day or week are not appropriate. Windows and doors should face on to the street, creating interest and activity for significant portions of the day, with lively internal uses visible from the outside, or spilling on to the street in appropriate locations.
5.18 Uses that help to keep the public realm active will play an important role in place-making and are, in principle, encouraged. However, the impacts on the amenity of residents and workers would need to be carefully considered. Any proposals for street markets would need to be accompanied by a management plan that identifies its hours of operation and storage arrangements when not in use, types of traders, advertising, servicing and pedestrian and transport impacts. Event spaces will also require a management plan regarding types of events, frequency of use, noise levels, advertising, servicing and pedestrian and transport impacts.
Convenience food takeaways
5.19 There has been a growing concern in recent years about the proliferation and over-concentration of hot food takeaways and their impact on health, in particular, regarding the proximity of takeaways to schools and the impact that this has on childhood obesity. In 2020 government reclassified hot food takeaways into a separate use class. The type of food on sale nearest to schools can influence the diet of schoolchildren and the availability of 'unhealthy' foodstuffs can make healthier choices less likely. While it is acknowledged that takeaway uses can be beneficial to the function of the Town Centre and reduce vacancies, an over-concentration of these uses would be detrimental to the character and function, or vitality and viability, of the Town Centre, and, as such, proposals that would result in potential clustering will be resisted.
Policy VT5.2: Watford Town Centre
Within Watford Town Centre, as shown on the Policies Map, applications for town centre uses will be supported where they:
- Maximise the proportion of the ground floor fronting a street as a positive and / or active frontage; and
- Support flexibility and adaptability to future-proof for changing uses (subject to appropriate permissions).
Applications for learning and non-residential institutions will be supported where they:
- Retain active frontages throughout the day;
- Demonstrate no negative impact on the road network;
- Serve the local community.
Applications providing outdoor uses, such as eating and drinking uses with outdoor seating, event space or street markets are encouraged and will be supported where they:
- Do not detract from residential amenity;
- Demonstrate no negative impact on connectivity and the ease of getting around for pedestrians and cyclists.
Applications for new hot food takeaway will be supported where they:
- Retain a separation of at least four units between each hot food takeaway unit;
- Protect the amenity of surrounding properties.
5.20 Retail and service provision outside the Town Centre is an important element towards achieving sustainable development and healthy communities. The network of Local Centres across the borough allows easy access to multiple services and contributes positively towards the identity of neighbourhoods. Local shops, alongside other services, are a key component of Local Centres and their protection will help shape how services are provided in the future.
5.21 Proposals will need to provide flexibility for Local Centres to address the challenges of new forms of retailing, while realising their potential for higher–density, mixed-use residential developments and environmental improvements. Redevelopment will be supported where it can make centres more viable and functional, but existing floorspace will be protected, to provide more facilities and amenities in local communities and reduce the need for travel. Proposals should demonstrate that the continued operation of existing facilities is not compromised by redevelopment.
5.22 The focus is on the consolidation of a viable range of functions and uses that make Local Centres a recognisable destination in the local area, particularly convenience retailing, leisure, local employment and workspaces. The design, accessibility and layout of Local Centres will have an important impact upon their success, and, in turn, the health and wellbeing of local people. Proposals should promote a range of unit sizes and retain a variety of uses, to meet the needs of the local community.
5.23 Smaller Neighbourhood Centres should focus on a limited but variety of uses and provide convenient and attractive access by walking and cycling to local goods and services needed on a day-to-day basis.
Policy VT5.3: District and Local Centres
New development must contribute positively to the function, vitality and viability of the District and Local Centres. This will include sufficient provision of local shops and services to meet the day-to-day needs of local communities.
Proposals for commercial, business and service uses, or appropriate community uses, will be supported. Development proposals should:
- Maximise the proportion of the ground floor fronting a street as a positive and / or active frontage;
- Demonstrably relate to the character, scale and role of the existing centre;
- Ensure centres are accessible, active, attractive and safe during the day and night;
- Provide convenient and attractive access by walking and cycling; and
- Support temporary and community uses where they help to activate and revitalise units.
Applications for new hot food takeaway will be supported where they:
- Are located more than 400m walking distance from the entrance of an existing or permitted primary school;
- Retain a separation of at least four units between each hot food takeaway unit; and
- Protect the amenity of surrounding properties.