Tourism planning guidance

New attractions. Improved transport links. Shifts in visitor numbers and spending habits. As the economic, social and physical landscape of England changes, tourism developers are faced with fresh opportunities to maximise the economic benefits of tourism. But to really ensure success, planning is essential. 

The Department for Communities & Local Government (DCLG) is responsible for national planning policy and guidance. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and national planning guidance resource can be found on its website, but we've also pulled together some useful information on planning for tourism to help you get off on the right foot.

1. How should tourism developers maximise the economic benefits of tourism for their areas?

If you've got a new tourism project you're planning, it's important to start conversations with the local planning authorities as soon as possible to ensure your project fits with the Local Plan and will be granted planning permission. You should also try and involve all those who'll have a role to play in the delivery of your scheme or programme. It's the best way of ensuring things develop in line with planning policy and with a realistic and sustainable commercial outlook.

Base your planning on a robust understanding of business needs within the tourism industry including a quantitative and qualitative assessment of future tourist accommodation and facilities. This includes everything from hotels and holiday parks, to concert, conference and exhibition space, theatres, museums, cafes, restaurants, pubs, nightclubs and sporting venues.

It might be that a traditional market has shifted changing the local tourism provision. For example, if visitor numbers have dropped there might be a surplus of hotels and guest houses struggling with low turnover and unable to improve their facilities. By collaborating with owners and local planning authorities developers can capitalise on this opportunity, finding alternative uses for these premises.

Similarly, with declining income from beer sales, many pubs are looking to up their food and accommodation offer, so might be planning changes to their premises. Again, conversation, collaboration and consideration of all the parties involved will go a long way towards making the planning of these projects a success.

2. How should tourism uses be accommodated in urban areas?

St Paul's reflected on the thames by nightThere are all sorts of tourist and leisure activities that lend themselves to cities and major urban locations. The NPPF sets out the sequential test for main town centre uses that are not in an existing centre and are not in accordance with the Local Plan.

3. How should tourism be accommodated in rural areas?

Sustainable rural tourism and leisure development is an important part of a prosperous rural economy and is recognised by the NPPF, but rural development has some specific considerations to take into account. Tourism developments might not be possible in the tightly drawn boundaries of market towns and villages and a need might arise for facilities in countryside attractions, or areas of outstanding natural beauty, which are a long way from the main services of an area. 

4. What are the key locational considerations in choosing the best site for tourism development?

In order to be commercially successful, tourism sites must be easily accessible for visitors and where possible should enable sustainable travel. Many small-scale rural tourism developments are car dependent – but the use of the car does not make the proposal unsustainable. Encouraging greater domestic tourism has the potential to support jobs in rural areas, reducing out-commuting.

Many accommodation businesses want it to be easy for customers to reach them by car. The NPPF recognises that different policies and measures will be required in different communities, and that opportunities to maximise sustainable transport solutions will vary from urban and rural areas.

5. How can tourist accommodation be maintained as a tourism use?

bedroom with wooden coffee table

As tourism is an all-year business, conditions restricting tourist accommodation to seasonal use should only be used where it's clear that the condition is absolutely necessary, as laid out in paragraph 206 of the NPPF.

Local planning authorities may also attach conditions to planning permissions for tourist accommodation to ensure that they're used for holiday purposes only. Where circumstances change, developers may wish to negotiate with their local planning authority for the removal of already imposed conditions.

6. What about applications for permanent staff accommodation?

For many types of tourist accommodation, onsite staff is essential, to deliver quality customer service, keep the property secure and meet health and safety regulations. In such cases developers may apply to convert existing buildings or build new ones. Local planning authorities may wish to impose conditions to ensure that such accommodation is occupied for this purpose only. Applicants will need to note the restrictions on such development in certain sensitive areas, especially the Green Belt.