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07 Mar
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The Rise of the C-Store

The rising number of local convenience stores - ‘C-stores' - operated by UK grocery chains is seen as a reflection of changing shopping patterns, as people move more towards shopping ‘little and often'.

With these ‘mini-supermarkets' set to sustain even stronger growth, we take a closer look at the planning dimensions of achieving this growth, and identify opportunities arising for retailers and developers to work together more closely to deliver these smaller format stores in new mixed-use and neighbourhood developments.

Key Facts

  • 47,090 local convenience stores in the UK
  • 404 opened by multiple grocery retailers in 2013, rising to approximately 600 in 2014
  • The convenience market generated total sales of £35.6bn in 2012/13, a 4.9% year on year increase
  • C-stores are small enough to ‘fill in' gaps in local shopping provision - both out of centre as well as in-centre, and planning policy is not always up to speed with this

Retailer Requirements and Planning Implications

As retailers expand their C-store estates, with some setting targets for acquiring and opening one or two new stores per week, this will inevitably necessitate a development pipeline of C-store sites that require quick planning solutions to allow retailers to operate to their requirements. This is likely to include opening early and closing late, seven days a week, with few planning restrictions.

Locating new C-stores in traditional town centres and high streets meets planning policy objectives by boosting investment in their vitality and viability and overall health. Central locations remain popular for retailers and will inevitably continue to provide a locational focus for C-store growth, offering a high degree of pedestrian footfall, upon which they can depend.

Retailers have diverse locational requirements for their new C-stores acquisitions, often outside of centres to allow them to optimise their service to their customer base. Ideally C-store operators have looked for vacant commercial properties, such as pubs, which can be converted automatically to C-stores through permitted development rights, exempt from planning restrictions. However, these can also be locally contentious and there are only so many vacant pubs and retails units available. With competition for C-store space hotting up, and more pub locations being designated as Assets of Community Value, it makes perfect sense for retailers to look at new and innovative opportunities to ensure that they maintain a supply pipeline of new C-store sites.

C-stores generally fall under the threshold of 2,500 sq m for impact assessments set out in national policy. They are typically under 280 sq m in size, meaning they are not affected by Sunday Trading Act, and are generally exempt from needing to meet retail impact policy tests, when proposed in out of centre locations. However, they are still potentially subject to locally set floorspace thresholds for assessing impact, particularly if extending beyond 280 sq m, and the sequential site testmay still need to be met.

Hurdles and Solutions

Each location is accompanied by its own set of site-specific planning hurdles that need to be overcome. From experience, regardless of complying with planning policy retail designations, retailers can often encounter lengthy and sometimes complex planning hurdles that impact adversely on construction timings which in turn delays scheduled store openings.

These planning hurdles can restrict the retailer's ability to achieve their full operational and trading requirements, which is problematic when seeking new acquisitions and openings of C-stores in bulk, at a rate of perhaps one or two per week. Arrangements for loading, servicing, parking, opening times and delivery hours can all be restricted, unreasonably or not, in close proximity to residential properties and general constraints of being ‘hemmed in' to the closely knit fabric of centres.

Urban extensions and large residential schemes also offer longer term opportunities to supplement store development pipelines. However there can be a disconnect in timings between developers or home builders and when a retailer can effectively commit to a scheme. If retailers are to ensure that their pipeline of C-stores ‘fly of the shelf' at the required rates, the message is to start planning early to make the most of these opportunities.

To secure the best new build C-store units, with limited planning delays and restrictions, this means retailers identifying and promoting sites from the outset of proposed urban extensions and mixed-use developments. Retailers, developers and home builders talking earlier in the process helps secure visible and fully operational sites, which can help drive retail and house sales.

With contacts and experienced commercial insight of planning and acquisitions across the retail and housing industries, NJL can assist you with managing all site search, planning and operational requirements for your C-store and mixed use development proposals, seeking to secure the best deal on sites for both retailer and house-builders. Why not get in touch to discuss your proposal with us?

Image used courtesy of Sludge G on Flickr

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