Retailers and rural campaigners join forces to champion high street

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The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has joined forces with the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) to urge MPs to pass two amendments to the Government’s Localism Bill to give greater power to local communities.

MPs will discuss amendments to the bill tomorrow, 17 May 2011. They are:

  • Community Right of Appeal – that empowers community representatives to be able to appeal to an independent inspector, in the same way that major developers can, where they believe a planning decision does not comply with local or national policy. It is expected that MPs will have a chance to vote for this measure. Both governing parties in the Coalition promised to introduce a community right of appeal before the 2010 General Election but Ministers have so far refused to include it in the Localism Bill and seem intent on reneging on their commitments.
  • Retail Diversity Scheme – that would hand back control over retail development decisions to communities and encourage renewed growth and investment in the high street

The ACS and CPRE said they are highlighting the threat to the high street. In the past year, 12,000 shops have closed their doors and communities have seen their views dismissed in key local planning decisions. They cases they highlight include:

– Stalham, Norfolk: after the building of a Tesco on a former market site, a significant amount of trade has been diverted away from the high street and there has been a net loss of jobs in the area
– Bishop’s Waltham, Hampshire: a Sainsbury’s development in this small town was approved by Winchester City Council despite going against the council’s own development plan
– Chapel Hill, Huddersfield: an approved Tesco store outside the ring road has been referred to the planning Minister by Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman after campaigns claiming that it will devastate the town centre

James Lowman, ACS chief executive, said: “High streets are vital not only to our economic confidence, but our sense of local identity. The whole idea of the more power to communities relies on local people having a say on the things that matter to them. We believe that the shape and future of their high streets and neighbourhood shopping is top of that list. The Localism Bill can deliver a radical shift in power, but only if MPs support these amendments.”

Shaun Spiers, CPRE chief executive, said: “Ministers say the Localism Bill is about giving more power to local people to improve the places where they live. We applaud the Government’s aspiration. MPs can ensure this happens in a practical way by giving real power to community groups to appeal against bad planning decisions and influence the future of their towns. MPs of all parties need to decide whether they are going to champion local communities or kowtow to big business.”