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Monitoring of Retail Developments - Research Findings

DescriptionThis work was commissioned to provide advice on the design, content and implementation of a system to enable regular monitoring of retail development activity.
ISBN0 7480 7234 9
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateDecember 24, 1998
Development Department Research Programme Research Findings No 60 (1998)
Monitoring of Retail Developments

GVA Grimley

ISBN 0-7480-7234-9Publisher The Scottish OfficePrice £5.00
This work was commissioned in 1998 to provide advice on the design, content and implementation of a system to enable regular monitoring of retail development activity. The research examined the data requirements necessary to support monitoring, data availability and devised a system for the collection of data. It also undertook pilot studies to test the recommended system and provided baseline information of retail development in Scotland during the 1990s.
Main Findings
  • The research identified the scope of data required to provide a basis for monitoring retail developments in Scotland, particularly in relation to policy objectives contained within NPPG8: Town Centres and Retailing. It found that monitoring is an important activity for land use planning and can provide an important basis for plan and policy review and formulation.
  • The study demonstrates that basic information requirements for monitoring are available, but that the only reliable source for this is from Local Authorities. A survey of Local Authorities is, therefore, essential for the implementation of a monitoring system.
  • The study recommends a monitoring system that is, essentially simple in concept. The system comprises: initial definition of data requirements; the collection of data from Local Authorities; storage and analysis of information in a database; and reporting/interrogation of the database. The recommended system also makes maximum use of existing software packages with which there is a comparatively high level of understanding and familiarity. This increases the ease with which data can be collected and analysed.
Aims and Objectives
The overall aim of this study was to provide the basis for establishing a monitoring system for retail developments within Scotland. The purpose of this monitoring system would be to establish the extent to which retail developments conform to government policies contained within NPPG8: Town Centres and Retailing.
The research study was required to address the design, content, implementation and cost of a retail development monitoring system. The specific objectives of the research study were:
  • to establish the type of data required to assess the implementation of government policies for retail development;
  • to identify appropriate sources of data;
  • to develop a system for the collection of data, including the piloting of this system; and
  • to provide retrospective data on retail developments in Scotland.
In undertaking the research support was provided through COSLA and from Planning staff at Dundee City, Scottish Borders and West Lothian Councils.
Study Methodology
The study was based on the following key activities:
  • establishment of the objectives and role of a monitoring system;
  • identification of existing and new data sources to meet these objectives;
  • pilot testing of the system;
  • preparation of appropriate computer software to aid the implementation of the system; and
  • undertaking a historical survey of retail developments within Scotland to provide appropriate baseline information.
Role and Purpose of a Monitoring System
Monitoring development is a key activity within land-use planning. Monitoring allows the review of policy performance and, therefore, can provide a basis for future plan and policy review and formulation. Additional functions of the system include the provision of information in response to requests (for example from future Members of the Scottish Parliament) or in support of research.
The principal area of Government Policy relating to retail matters is NPPG8. It is important that, where possible, the monitoring system is able to provide information relevant to the policy objectives covered within this document. Policy topics covered by NPPG8 include the following: protection and/or enhancement of existing town centres; application of the sequential approach; protection and/or enhancement of the rural economy; sustainable transport; competition and choice; design quality; protection of various types of land/property types (including undeveloped rural areas, industrial and recreational land).
Two key issues have been identified in the collection of information relating to the above topics. First that, in certain instances, the data may be subject to dispute concerning its interpretation (for example whether an impact does or does not adversely affect a centre). Secondly, to establish the relationship with certain policy objectives, very detailed information may be required.
Monitoring System Design Parameters
Other design parameters, identified as relevant to the design of the system, include the need to:
  • minimise resource cost for setting up and implementation;
  • respect confidentiality of information, data protection and also public accessibility to information;
  • complement existing systems and technical resources within The Scottish Office;
  • ensure comprehensiveness across the country but treat different types of development in a consistent manner; and
  • ensure that the system is "Year 2000 Compliant".
Information Sources
The review of existing sources of data for monitoring retail developments provides an assessment of their potential for inclusion within a monitoring system. The following data sources were reviewed:
  • Primary data sources: planning applications; weekly lists; committee reports and appeal reports; and
  • Secondary sources: subscription data sources; Local Authorities; and other sources.
Only primary data sources are able to provide the full range of information requirements necessary for the assessment of all policy objectives contained in NPPG8. However these require substantial resources to review the key documents and extract relevant data.
Secondary data sources, such as commercial subscription databases, are available and comparatively easy to access. However, these alone would be insufficient, either individually or in combination, to meet the information requirements identified to be essential to meet the objectives of the monitoring system. Detailed examination of these databases has revealed that a significant proportion of retail schemes, especially for areas located outwith the Central Belt of Scotland are omitted. The databases are not, therefore, comprehensive.
Local Authorities were identified to be a key source of information on retail developments. Half of the Authorities in Scotland were contacted to establish what information is routinely collected, or could be obtained with limited effort on a regular basis. Whereas it would be impractical to request Authorities to provide the full range of information necessary to cover all the policy areas covered by NPPG8 in depth, the study concludes that they are the most reliable source of basic information on retail development proposals in Scotland.
The study concludes that, to provide a reliable and comprehensive system, it is essential that a survey of Local Authority Planning Departments is undertaken as part of the monitoring system.
Overall Monitoring System Design
The recommended structure for a Retail Monitoring System is, essentially, simple in concept. It comprises only four component stages:
  • Initial design and definitions which schemes should be included and defining the data to be collected within the system.
  • Data collection and recording - sources of information and mechanisms for initial recording and frequency of review.
  • Data storage for analysis - tools available for storing the data for allow analysis.
  • Reporting of Analysis - tools and techniques for presenting the results of analysis.
Monitoring System Options
Within this overall structure a number of options are addressed in the Study for component parts of the Monitoring System. Options covered include:
  • Scope of retail developments included within the monitoring system. Based on balancing the comprehensiveness of the database together with identifying only those developments that are strategically important and the resource cost of collecting information, the study recommends that only developments of 1000 sq.m. or greater, and that have entered the planning process, should be included in the monitoring system.
  • Scope of data to be collected. The study recommends that a balance has to be struck, which avoids the collection of all the information necessary for addressing all aspects of policy but which extends beyond the simple description of developments.
  • Source of data for collection. The study compares the alternative sources and concludes that the only reliable source for information on retail developments is from Local Authorities.
  • Options for data collection and transfer are considered. Distinct advantages are identified with the direct input of data onto disk or transferred via e-mail using well known software packages compared to the use of paper-based survey forms.
  • Options for data storage and analysis. Options considered include the use of Excel spreadsheet, Access database or The Scottish Office SAS database. Reflecting the size of the dataset to be analysed the recommended option is the use of an Access database for storage, analysis and interrogation.
  • Frequency of review. To provide an ongoing basis for monitoring it is necessary that information is regularly updated. The recommended option is for an annual review. This provides a balance between the regular updating of information but not excessive frequency of review.
Pilot Surveys
Three pilot surveys were undertaken in West Lothian, Scottish Borders and Dundee City Councils to test the data collection aspects of the proposed Monitoring System. These indicated that there were no fundamental difficulties with the proposed Monitoring System, although a number of amendments to detailed aspects were identified.
Historic Database
Data on retail developments in Scotland were collected as part of the study. In total 499 different schemes above 1000 sq.m. floor area are identified for the period 1992-1997. These were identified using existing commercial databases and the study recognises that, in certain areas, a number of retail schemes are omitted from this dataset and that the information on each scheme is limited.
Study Recommendations
The study provides the basis for the design and implementation of a monitoring system for retail developments in Scotland.
The Retail Monitoring System would be based upon an annual survey of Local Authorities covering only retail developments with a gross floor area of 1000 sq.m. or greater. Data would be entered into an Excel spreadsheet by Local Authority staff. When returned to The Scottish Office this would be transferred into an Access database which has been set up to carry out a series of routine enquiries as well as having the flexibility of including additional analysis of the data.
The study identifies three main areas for using the information collected through the Monitoring System. These include: the production of regular monitoring reports of retail development activity in Scotland; analysis and interrogation of the database to undertake detailed analysis of trends and relationships between retail developments, their characteristics and policy objectives; and to provide a source of information for answering specific queries on retail development in Scotland.
"Monitoring of Retail Developments", the research report summarised in this Research Findings, may be purchased priced £5.00.
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