A purge on malls to protect high streets
It is hoped the guidelines will stop the march of bland 'clone towns' as the credit crunch hits small businesses hard. Under the reforms, local authorities will be able to block new developments on sites miles away from town centres if they risk tearing the heart out of existing shopping precincts. Currently, planning chiefs have only to assess whether there is capacity for a superstore before giving the goahead for it to be built. The changes will also require developers to choose town centre sites first, ensure any development does not 'choke existing small businesses or draw valuable trade away from the town' and safeguard the 'unique character of town centres'.
The move, which will be outlined in detail by Communities Secretary Hazel Blears later this week, comes after the Competition Commission revealed supermarkets now hold monopolies in 200 parts of the country. It said it fears this growing domination could lead to higher prices and a poorer range of products and services.
Miss Blears said yesterday: 'We believe small shops are the heart of town centres and local communities. That is why I am taking action to strengthen the planning rules so they better protect our small shops during the credit crunch and keep our high streets vibrant. Popping down to the local grocers or bakery is more than just shopping, it is where people meet and identify with their community. Independent butchers, bakers and booksellers are icons of local pride, giving high streets a style all of their own. Our priority is to ensure we do not see more stretches of the nation's high streets turned into bland 'every towns' where each has the same shops, the look, the same sterile feel. We need more individuality, more small-scale independent shops and a spirit of enterprise on our high streets.'
Consumer campaigners have long argued that the growth in out-of-town shopping malls and hypermarkets, which sell everything from food and clothes to cookware and electrical goods under one roof, is seriously affecting the High Street. In some parts of the country, big stores have even been buying up land in areas where they are already dominant in order to keep out rivals. Small independent retailers are closing at a rate of 2,000 per year, according to the Federation of Small Businesses. A spokesman for the FSB said: 'Town centres are being gradually destroyed. Any proposals which seek to protect their diversity and ensure they get a fair crack of the whip when it comes to planning policies have our full backing.'
The changes will be made to special planning guidance known as 'Planning Policy Statement 6: Planning for Town Centres'.