The Government has unveiled major new planning reforms today, with a key plank being to strengthen town centres over out of town shopping developments.

It said it would introduce a new test to examine any proposals for out-of-town centres that ‘threaten the survival of high streets and small shops’.

There will be a reform of the needs test for out-of-town development and councils will have the power to rule whether an out of town development will support the Town Centre.

Secretary of state for communities and local government Ruth Kelly said the proposals would speed up and streamline the planning system which was facing challenges from climate change and the need to provide affordable housing.

Other elements of the white paper are for a better and quicker system for major infrastructure projects and a simplified local planning system for householders. Kelly also said that the planning system should play a bigger role in tackling climate change. There will be an increased budget for planning aid and an easier and improved appeals process.

The British Property Federation said it welcomed the reforms, which follow on from Kate Barker’s report on planning last year. Faraz Baber, director for planning and regeneration policy at the BPF, said: ‘The raft of announcements are a positive step to delivering an efficient planning system and taking the difficult decisions that must be made on major developments.

The true test will lie in the government's ability to form the national policy statements and the independent planning commission's ability to take and implement its decisions, having them stand up in court. We welcome any move to speed up projects vital to the social or economic wellbeing of the country, which currently could take years to get consent for, never mind completion.’