Rural closure fears dismissed

PUBLISHED: 10:34 15 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:01 22 October 2010

CHRIS FISHER, EDP Political Editor

Concerns about the closures of shops, post offices and garages in Norfolk villages have been roundly dismissed by the government.

Concerns about the closures of shops, post offices and garages in Norfolk villages have been roundly dismissed by the government.

Trade minister Ian McCartney told North-West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham that there was no better time to start a small business, that the convenience-store sector was "thriving", and that his constituency had benefited from the government's policy of preventing avoidable closures of post offices in rural areas.

Village post offices at Brancaster and Syderstone had reopened late last year, he said, and the one at Brancaster Staithe was due to reopen on June 22.

There had been two temporary closures at Walpole St Andrew and West Newton, he conceded, but the Post Office's rural advisers were "working hard to fill the vacancies".

Mr Bellingham had complained in a Commons debate that there had been a substantial decline in the number of community stores, and that 2,000 had closed last year.

"As I go round my constituency, I see shops that have closed and villages with no shop", he said. "Not long ago, villages such as Pentney, near King's Lynn, had a shop, a pub and, indeed, a garage. Now there is nothing left in that village and the heart has been taken out of it. I am afraid that such occurrences are all too regular."

Mr Bellingham called for a widening of the scope of the Competition Commission's inquiry into the grocery market. As he understood it, he said, it was limited mainly to planning and land banks and that was "far too narrow".

Everyone representing farming or semi-rural constituencies knew the power of the big supermarket chains over suppliers, growers and the rural economy, he stressed, and it was "invidious" and "very damaging".

He also argued that there should be no changing of the Sunday trading laws to allow large retailers to open longer as that would cause further damage to small shops.

Mr McCartney said that the Competition Commission's investigation was not limited to issues identified in the reference document, and that it could include competition in the food supply chain and non-groceries sold by supermarkets.

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