The government has made a U-turn in policy by making it easier for developers to build out-of-town shopping centres.

Deputy prime minister John Prescott has issued revised planning guidance allowing developers to obtain planning permission to build out of town if there is no suitable inner-city land.

The guidance still requires councils to favour town- and city-centre regeneration but makes the system less prescriptive.

It reflects the tension between chancellor Gordon Brown’s drive to encourage competitiveness and regional growth and Prescott’s aim of regenerating city centres in a sustainable fashion.

Developers will view the step as an important concession, as it requires councils to be sensitive to their needs as well as those of local communities.

Announcing the change, planning minister Keith Hill said: “In the past, out-of-centre development have eroded the vitality of towns, sometimes resulting in social and economic decay … We want to see a sustainable mix.”