Four out of five MPs support giving communities greater powers to use the planning system to stop their high streets becoming ’clone towns’. These findings are revealed today by the Association of Convenience Stores, as it sets out a three-point plan to revive flagging high streets.
ACS represents more than 33,500 shops across the UK and will announce its three-point plan at the Heart of the Community conference today in Westminster.
As well as new powers for communities to prevent their town and neighbourhood centres losing their identity they have called for a halt to proposed business rate increases and stronger rules preventing out-of-town retail development.
ACS chief executive James Lowman told retailers and MPs: “Government must go further if they want to achieve their ambition for localism to drive growth and encourage business to invest in our flagging high streets.
The three-point plan set out by ACS calls for Government to drive millions of pounds of investment back into high streets by:
1) Implementing new planning powers for communities to designate retail mix on their high streets
James Lowman said: “Communities want to have more control over the types of shops that they have on their high streets. They want to be able to encourage the right balance of businesses; large and small; discounters, specialists and national brands but they are currently frustrated by the limits of the planning powers available to them.
“This problem will not be addressed by the localism reforms enacted so far. That’s why we are calling for new powers that would allow communities to set out their vision for the retail mix they want to achieve in their area and once agreed councils could use planning powers to restrict local dominance of one type of business.”
Recent polling by ComRes for ACS shows that 77% of MPs support this move.
2) Stopping the 5.6% hike in business rates planned for April 2012
James Lowman said: “The business rate increase planned for April 2012 is the highest for twenty years and will cost convenience stores alone more than £35 million. A 2% increase in line with Government targets would give businesses an opportunity to invest in the future and drive the economic recovery at a time when jobs are at an absolute premium.”
3) Toughening ‘town centre first’ rules in draft National Planning Policy
James Lowman said: “Since 2006, the proportion of new retail investment directed into regenerating and improving our town centres has declined by 20%. Government planning reforms present an opportunity for Councils and local people to reassert control over the planning decisions that govern the shape of their high streets. However there are still improvements needed to ensure national policy is as robust as it can be.”
ACS Heart of the Community Conference takes place in Methodist Central Hall today and will be addressed by Planning Minister Bob Neill MP and Shadow Secretary of State the Right Honorable Hillary Benn MP.