Planners needs to think ‘very hard’ about whether to free up retail space in town centres for housing and employment, according to North Somerset Council’s chief executive. Mike Jackson said during the economy panel debate at Built Environment Networking’s West of England Economic Growth Conference that urban intensification was a strong theme of the city-region’s joint spatial plan.

He said: “We are looking particularly closely at Bristol and Weston (Super-Mare) where we see opportunities for urban intensification both for residential and employment,” adding that land use policies haven’t caught up with shifting patterns of demand for retail space. “We need to think very hard about whether we need the amount of retail space we have in town centres and whether those sites would be more appropriate for residential or employment uses.”

Responding to concerns about the loss of employment and office space to housing as a result of the government’s extension of permitted development rights, West of England Combined Authority chief executive officer Patricia Greer said ‘grow on space’ was an issue in both Bath and Bristol. She added that employment sites were a ‘priority’ for the combined authority.

Nick Sturge, director of Bristol’s Engine Shed, said during the debate that the west of England’s diversity gave it a ‘competitive edge’. 

“The fact that we have diversity is a massive asset. It’s stupid not to take advantage of what we have got: it’s an enabler, not something we have to fix.”