Plea over out-of-town planning changes

Campaigners have made an 11th-hour plea to ministers to ditch proposals that would make it easier to build out-of-town megastores amid concerns that small local traders will pay the price.

Campaigners have made an 11th-hour plea to ministers to ditch proposals that would make it easier to build out-of-town megastores amid concerns that small local traders will pay the price.

Government proposals for revised planning policies due out next month are expected to include guidelines from the Competition Commission which suggest that more out-of-town stores should be built to increase competition between supermarkets.

But Friends of the Earth, the Women's Institute and Campaign to Protect Rural England have joined forces to try to stop ministers following “the flawed advice” given by the commission which they claim will sign the death warrant for high streets and independent shops.

Only yesterday, a popular greengrocer's in Diss closed down. “People using super-markets is killing market towns, it's not just me,” said Keith Tilcock, owner of Castle Greengrocer in town.

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And the retailer is not the only shop to have experienced hardship. The China Cabinet and Siddalls Shoe Shop, both in town, have notices up advertising the shop leases for sale. “The one thing that we are all concerned about is the amount of businesses that seem to be closing,” said Brian Clark-Taylor, district councillor for South Norfolk. “In a small place like Diss we already have three supermarkets.”

Friends of the Earth regional campaigns co-ordinator Mary Edwards said by encouraging more out-of-town stores, the government is set to increase car-based shopping trips and associated carbon-dioxide emissions.

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“The problem with the government is that they are listening to businesses,” she said. “Gordon Brown and his ministers pledged to cut carbon emissions, but by supporting out-of-town monsters they will not solve the problem. There should be real choice, not just a choice between big supermarkets. Also we should ensure local shops are access-ible to people without cars.”

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.

But Sandra Bell, supermarkets campaigner for Friends of the Earth, added: “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 out-of-town mega-stores.”

According to figures released by the group, urban food miles by car increased by 9pc between 2005 and 2006 - an increase experts have attri-buted to people travelling further for food shopping.

Last night, a spokesman for the Competition Commission said there was no evidence of unfair distortions in competition between large retailers and small stores. “We have looked at the concerns that have been raised with us regarding small shops,” she said. “The evidence is that convenience stores and specialist grocers that provide consumers with a strong retail offer will prosper.

“We are still asking interested parties to come forward and provide us with evidence if they disagreed with our findings so far and also comments on the proposed remedies. Though the deadline has now passed we are still receiving correspondence,” she said.

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