Crawley Borough Council – Retail, Commercial Leisure & Town Centre Neighbourhood Needs Assessment (2020)

We were instructed to provide a ‘Retail, Commercial Leisure and Town Centre Neighbourhood Needs Assessment’ for Crawley Borough Council in 2020. Crawley Town Centre had undergone a period of change in the lead up to the study, with an increase in vacancy rates and public backlash to the high proportion of food and beverage operators entering the market. The Council was also considering the implications of significant residential growth. This growth took the form of both planned and unplanned developments across the Borough; from new neighbourhoods at Forge Wood and Kilnwood Vale through to a notable uptake of permitted development rights for the change of use of office to residential across the town centre.

The brief therefore required health check assessments of Crawley and its supporting local centres, qualitative and quantitative assessments of capacity for new retail and leisure floorspace and a review of existing and proposed draft policies against any findings and recommendations. The scale of the planned population growth also required a careful consideration of Crawley Town Centre against its founding ‘neighbourhood principles’, as well as the type and quantum of supporting facilities required to meet the day-to-day needs of a growing town centre residential population.

Our Solutions

We designed a bespoke methodology to measure changing habits resulting from a growing number of ‘permitted development’ office to residential schemes within the town centre, and the Council’s ambitions to plan for further housing growth in the town through the emerging Local Plan. This approach then fed into our assessment of the health of the centre, and provide recommendations on how Crawley can thrive as a wider retail destination, as well as for a local resident population.

As such, we began with the results of the household telephone survey of local residents, setting out current market share patterns, and identified how changes in spending, retailer efficiencies, and population growth would result in a statistical quantitative capacity for new retail and leisure floorspace to 2035.

We then turned to a review of the latest policy context and prevailing trends, a health check assessment of Crawley Town Centre (and the neighbouring parades), a review of draft policy and further recommendations to support to growth, diversification and long-term vitality and viability of the centre; and advise on the type and amount of supporting facilities required to meet the needs of a growing residential population within the Town Centre.

Finally, we sought to advise on the type and amount of supporting facilities required to meet the needs of a growing residential population within the Town Centre, based on key ‘neighbourhood principles’. Interestingly, in the context of the 15 minute neighbourhood concept, the 1947 New Town of Crawley originally consisted of nine residential neighbourhoods around the town centre, and was designed around a foundational set of neighbourhood principles. Neighbourhoods were designed with a compact centre, each with its own character providing for the day-to-day needs of local residents, including shops, school, community centre and a pub, creating walkable communities based on short distances, with further schools, health facilities, parks and playing fields within the town centre itself. We used existing Council data sources, supplemented by stakeholder consultation and our survey work to analyse the local uptake and quality of existing facilities and the need for community services (including flexible space and places of worship), social infrastructure (such as health, education and waste recycling facilities) and leisure provision (from gyms to cinemas), as well as local shopping facilities.

The Outcome

This work brought together the team’s retail and socioeconomic capabilities, and the final recommendations were incorporated into the draft Local Plan policies, which were amended to reflect our guidance. We went on to present our findings and recommendations at stakeholder sessions to the Council’s Economic Regeneration Working Group and full Council meetings.