A perfect storm of aggressive supermarket expansion, poor planning laws and low investment could wipe out hundreds of British high streets, according to James Lowman, chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores.
Lowman was addressing a packed audience of forecourt and convenience retailers and suppliers at the Association’s Heart of the Community Conference held earlier this week at the Imperial War Museum. He called for a fairer, more balanced approach to retail planning to ensure the survival of UK high streets.
“Our high streets are under threat from a perfect storm as reduced investment; poorly applied planning rules and aggressive supermarket expansion converge to put hundreds at risk,” he said. “Many of the town centres that do survive will become ‘clone towns’.
“Councils do not appear to be in control of this growth. In too many examples across the country, supermarkets are poorly planned, too big and located away from the existing centres, meaning that they destroy choice and close down high streets.”
Earlier in the day delegates had heard from a stimulating line-up of speakers including crossbench peer Lord Mawson; director of ResPublica Phillip Blond; councillors Richard Kemp and Stephen Greenhalgh; and Stephen Hammmond MP.
Retailers were also invited to a reception at the Houses of Parliament where Mark Prisk, conservative MP for Hertford and Stortford, launched a healthcheck guide for high streets and town centres. Prisk said it was a practical tool to help people assess what’s happening on their high street and start thinking about an action plan.
“If a high street is healthy, a town is healthy,” he said. “Central government doesn’t have all the answers. Part of our job is to ensure that we enable communities to take the issues that matter to them and lead on them. That is the idea behind the local enterprise partnerships – that business will have an equal footing with local authorities where the express purpose is to promote that local economy.”