Large retail unit planning

Retail sales control is regulated by the Land Use and Building Act (LUBA).  The special provisions on retail sales are set out in Chapter 9 a of the Act.

 © Pirjo Ferin

All of the different actors in the field of retail sales have their own perspectives, needs and goals concerning the services and location of retail units. The aim of land use planning is to reconcile the perspectives and goals of residents, customers, trade, society and planners. Solutions and reservations concerning sales units are included in regional land use plans, local master plans and local detailed plans.

Definition of a large retail sales unit

All shops larger than 4,000 floor square metres shall be treated as large retail sales units regardless of the sector. The actual sales space and other necessary areas of the shop, such as warehouses, break rooms, waste management areas and other similar spaces, are all counted as floor area.

Large retail units that are regionally important are allocated in regional land use plans. Local plans – at the master and detailed level – allocate the large retail units with local impact.

Special content requirements of large retail units

Regional plans and local master plans are subject to special content requirements (Section 71 b, LUBA), which stipulate that the following must be taken into account, in addition to other provisions: 

1. land use must not have detrimental effects on the commercial services and their development in town centres; 

2. services in the area must be within reach by public transport, bicycle and pedestrian traffic, where possible; and

3. land use promotes the creation of a service network, with reasonable distances between services and minimum inconvenience caused by traffic.

Minimum size of a regionally important large retail unit

The regional land use plan must define a lower limit for a regionally important large retail unit. A regionally important large retail unit refers to a retail unit with potential, regional impacts outside the municipal borders. A regional large retail unit can also be a retail unit with potential impacts on the regional centre or service network within one municipality. The lower limit of a regionally important large retail unit may vary according to the region in question and the circumstances and sector. The lower limits may vary among the different parts of the country, and also within provinces.

The definition of the lower limit should be based on an impact assessment: what is the estimated size of a retail unit with regional importance when the business sector is taken into account? Based on an impact assessment, the lower limit of a regionally important retail unit can exceed the regulatory limit of 4,000 floor square metres.

Maximum size of large retail units

The regional land use plan must define the maximum size of a large retail unit accurately enough (Section 71 b, LUBA). The aim of defining the maximum size is to ensure a balanced development of centres and commercial service structures. Furthermore, defining the size enables assessing the impacts of retail services in the area to the necessary extent.

The obligation to define the maximum size with a special marking in the regional plan applies both to large retail units allocated outside central functions areas.

Prioritising centres

The preferred location of large retail units is the central area, unless there are reasons for locating the unit elsewhere  in terms of access to the services provided by the retail outlet (Section 71 c, LUBA). When allocating large retail units outside central areas, the special content requirements set out in sections 1.2 and 3.3. must be taken into account (for example, the unit must not have detrimental effects on central services) and the principles of sustainable development must be adhered to.

Allocating large retail units outside central areas

Locating regionally important large retail units outside the area designated for central functions in the regional plan requires that the area where the large retail unit is allocated be especially designated for such a purpose in the regional plan (Section 71 c, LUBA).

A large retail unit may not be located outside the area designated in the regional plan or the local master plan for central functions, unless the area is specifically designated for such a purpose in the local detailed plan (Section 71 d, LUBA).

What are central areas and central functions areas?

Central area refers to the functional centre of a province, municipality or part thereof. In addition to retail services, there are other central services in the area, as well as apartments and jobs. Central areas are well connected to surrounding neighbourhoods, via various means of transport. Current central areas and their justified expansions are designated in the regional and local master plans with the central function mark (C).

How is the overall size of retail sales estimated?

Developing the retail service network, location and size solutions included, requires estimating the overall size of retail sales. The overall size of retail sales is estimated by the sales sector, based on consumption: the consumption (€) is converted to a sales room requirement with the help of the average sales efficiency (€/m2 of sales space). Consumption, on the other hand, is an estimate based on the consumption by an individual person and the number of people in the impact area. The sales space requirement can also be estimated, based on the average square areas of sales space per person.

More information

Examples on and the basic data needed for the reports, planning and impact assessment of retail sales can be found in the guide for the planning of large retail units, available on the Ministry of the Environment webpage:

Supporting material of the guide can be found in the combined information bank on trade on this webpage, which contains the borders of central areas, sub-centres and sales areas outside centres as geospatial data and map series, provided by the Finnish Environmental Institute.

The borders are named and they feature statistical data on the floor areas of buildings, the amount of jobs in the sales sector and changes to these.

The pages also include additional background information, such as the number of inhabitants, consumption development, shop construction and the location of sales units in the community structure. The purpose of the information is to help define regionality in different land use planning contexts.

More information

Senior Specialist Sanna Jylhä, The Ministry of the Environment, t. + 358 295 250 233,

Published 2013-10-28 at 13:00, updated 2018-11-05 at 18:51