Planning policy for town centres: don't sign 'death warrant for our high streets and for independent shops' say campaigners

The Government is being called on to take action to prevent the further decline of town centres and local independent shops. A consortium of environmental and public interest groups has launched a list of measures needed to promote diverse and sustainable town centres and to reduce damaging supermarket dominance.

Government proposals for planning policy for town centres (PPS6), due to be released next month, are likely to weaken protection for town centres and independent shops in line with recommendations from the Competition Commission made in October.

The Association of Convenience Stores, Campaign to Protect Rural England, Friends of the Earth, Food Access Network and the National Federation of Women's Institutes have recommended a presumption against out-of-town developments so that new out-of-town supermarkets will only be approved in exceptional circumstances. This is a direct challenge to the Competition Commission's recommendation that more out-of-town stores should be built to increase competition between supermarkets. In the statement released today, the groups are calling for a series of new tests to ensure that new retail developments would:

  • provide real choice, not just a choice between big supermarkets

  • contribute to diverse town centres

  • ensure that local shops are accessible to people without cars

  • reduce the environmental impact of new retail development by reducing carbon dioxide emissions

The Government first set out its commitment to revising planning rules for town centres in its Planning White Paper in May. Its stated aim was to create quality spaces and flourishing communities, requiring a new retail impact test. It is vital that the new test strengthens instead of weakens current policy.

ACS, CPRE, Friends of the Earth, the Food Access Network and the NFWI have criticized the Competition Commission for ignoring the needs of people without access to a car and for putting forward recommendations that contradict existing Government commitments to sustainable development and to cutting carbon emissions. Urban food miles by car increased by 9% between 2005 and 2006: an increase which has been attributed to people travelling further to do their food shopping.

Sandra Bell, Supermarkets Campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: 'We are at a turning point for high streets and town centres. If the Government follows the flawed advice of the Competition Commission it will be signing a death warrant for our high streets and for independent shops by making it even easier for the supermarkets to build yet more big out-of-town mega stores. Instead it needs to introduce new rules to restrict out-of-town development and promote real choice of local independent shops to meet every day needs.'

Tom Oliver, Head of Rural Policy for Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: 'By encouraging more edge-of-town and out-of-town stores, the Government is set to increase car-based shopping trips at a time when it claims that tackling climate change is a priority. It should be looking for ways to cut car dependency and associated carbon dioxide emissions.'

James Lowman, Chief Executive of the Association of Convenience Stores said: 'Badly planned and over sized supermarkets can have a damaging impact on local shops. Where this happens the biggest losers are the customers who rely on easy to access shopping choices. This policy is so important because we need Government and the Competition Commission to understand that choice between big supermarkets is not real choice and consumers are crying out for a greater range of local shops.'

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