Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Housing Development in Market Towns: Making a Success of 'Local Service Centres'?

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Housing Development in Market Towns: Making a Success of 'Local Service Centres'?

Article excerpt

Market towns play an important role within their rural areas as providers of services, particularly for those who are less mobile. Recent trends have led to an increase in the number of rural residents who shop and enjoy entertainment within larger urban areas, challenging the existence of services within market towns. Despite these trends, housing expansion at least provides hope that this will provide new trade for town services. Whether this hope can be realised in practice has not been widely researched. Through detailed surveys within four market towns in two very different regions, this article considers the extent to which population growth supports their important rural service-centre role. The results suggest that housing expansion can help maintain these towns by enhancing trade for retail, and that this potential can be best realised using a selective approach, choosing towns with good services (or at least the potential for this). This article considers the effect of location with respect to other urban areas. However, housing development will need to be supplemented by other measures to improve trade.

The market town1 has traditionally filled an important rural service-centre role for town and hinterland residents. Such services are particularly vital to less mobile rural residents (those with disabilities, those on low incomes and the elderly), and this social importance has increased as rural populations have aged and services have declined at the village level (Miller, 2001; Home, 2002; Paddison and Calderwood, 2007). Indeed, market towns often provide the only viable rural access to quality services. The need to maintain the rural service-centre role is also important in terms of employment in locally-based retail businesses; and it is environmentally important in relation to providing a viable alternative to travelling to larger urban areas. Despite the social, economic and environmental importance of services in maintaining viable rural communities, market towns face serious challenges. Shoppers are being diverted elsewhere by the falling cost of motoring as a proportion of disposable income (DfT, 2006) and the centralisation of retail (Baldock, 2004; Vias, 2004). Indeed, the functional attachment of residents to market towns is falling, particularly among hinterland residents (SERRL, 2004), reducing community cohesion as the practices (shopping, working, etc.) of residents are conducted in spaces, and through structures, that do not relate geographically to the town itself (Liepins, 2000).

Simultaneously, market towns are currently viewed by many as highly desirable places to live. In the UK they have played an important role in the sustained increase in population within rural areas (Champion, 1994; Countryside Agency, 2004). UK government policy (MAFF and DETR, 2000; DEFRA, 2004) and planning guidance (Planning Policy Statement 7) (ODPM, 2004) has highlighted market towns as areas for new development and population expansion. Although population growth in market towns has not been as widespread in other countries, it has occurred internationally, particularly in towns conveniently located with respect to large urban areas and/or with appeal in terms of leisure amenities (Dahms, 1995; Kenyon and Black, 2001; Johnson and Beale, 1995; Vias, 1999).

Despite the recent trends in rural services, housing expansion and the resultant population growth at least provides potential new trade for self-accessed commercial services2 in the towns. Whether the potential can be realised in practice has not been widely researched. Given the importance of this relationship, this article considers the extent to which population growth in market towns helps maintain the viability of their rural service-centre role. However, to explore only the link between new housing and trade would be naïve. Firstly, although maintaining services within market towns is important, an understanding is also required of the wider sustainability implications of population growth within market towns. …

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