ACS: community shops no substitute for strong high street

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ACS (the Association of Convenience Stores) has urged Ministers to ensure reform of planning powers in the Localism Bill, published today, do not undermine high streets.

The Localism Bill includes plans to encourage community groups to bid to run council services and take over unused community buildings like pubs and shops; it also sweeps away existing policy that governs planning decision making and gives Councils new powers to give discretionary business rate relief.

According to the ACS, the fear for local shops is removing national planning rules regulating retail development (Planning Policy Statement 4) and replacing them with a new streamlined national planning framework will bring a return to the out of town development free-for-all of the 1980s and early 1990s.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “Local shops will welcome the intentions of the Localism Bill reforms. Bringing decision making closer to communities and driving engagement by people in the neighbourhoods where they live can bring new life to shops and their trading environment. We will work constructively with Government and our members to make the legislation, especially new business rate reliefs, a success.

“We welcome Ministers’ aim to make it easier for communities to step in and revive community services like the local shop. There are some communities where there is no economic alternative to a local shop owned and staffed by volunteers. However, we must ensure running a shop remains a commercially viable for entrepreneurs in communities of all kinds up and down the country. Community run shops are no substitute for healthy high streets.

“Strong and consistent planning law is vital to ensuring diverse retail provision is part of sustainable communities. We need strong rules that keep retail development in our neighbourhoods, town centres and high streets; poorly planned out-of-centre retail developments are the main threat to the sustainability of local shops close to where people live. We need this now more than ever, with 12,000 fewer shops on our high streets, this year compared to last.

“ACS will be working throughout the passage of the Bill to raise awareness amongst MPs and Peers about the problems facing the high street.”