• Mary Portas review collides with supermarket domination plans

    22nd December 2011 | News | Claire
  • British supermarkets are planning to open enough new stores in the years ahead, to cover 500 football pitches.

    If all the plans are approved, the UK’s supermarket trading space will increase by up to 50 per cent, or to about 3,000 acres.

    The draft NPPF has weakened the ‘town centre first’ policy for supermarkets and has rather than putting the onus on supermarkets to make a case for opening in or near towns, the burden of proof that supermarkets will cause harm to town centres, rests with local councils. 

    The reality of course is, that if this policy goes through into the final draft of the NPPF, that supermarkets will steamroller councils into submission – even more so than they do already. 

    Mary Portas very sensibly recommends in her review, that the town centre first policy is strengthened.  She has also advised that restrictions should be placed on out-of-town retail parks which expand constantly and drain more and more business away from town centres.

    Local press is reporting this week that David Shephard, Devon regional chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “It is vital that the Government and councils take note of these recommendations – in particular that the provisions in the new National Planning Policy Framework are strong enough to provide the protection needed, since there has been a notable shift towards out of town retail developments in the last 10 years.

    “If no action is taken, the trend is set to continue.”

    He added: “The lack of affordable town centre parking is driving trade away from the high street to out of town retail sites.

    Mr Shephard has welcomed calls to review business rates, which he said would help attract and retain small retailers.

    I lived in the United States for a few months in my mid twenties and I was struck that outside New York City, which is of course, thriving and unique, there is bland sameness everywhere.  The relentless concrete blocks of shopping malls litter the countryside, containing the same old big department stores, amid large retail parks, including food chain stores, car dealers and ugly office blocks.  The trend of shopping in towns that I was used to in the UK was conspicuous by its absence. 

    It was more than just a dull shopping experience, it was soulless and somehow depressing.  It was like shopping in Marsh Barton Industrial Estate, rather than in Exeter High Street.

    I am at a loss to understand why this Government thinks that this is the path they want to follow.  Visiting France last year was a total contrast.  Yes I saw a few supermarkets near towns, but towns in France are alive with individual independent shops in every town.  The sort of shops that disappeared from cities here decades ago – such as independent shoe shops, clothes and high quality food shops. 

    It made me sad that successive Government policy has made it harder for the independent shops to survive.

    It is such a shame that retail and planning policy in this country seems to support big business at the expense of the smaller individual businesses.  The attitude seems to be ‘big is best’.  Well it isn’t. 

    And not only are we making it harder for budding entrepreneurs, we are making it easier for the kind of business to flourish that aims to strangle other smaller businesses, including farmers and other food producers.  And not content with opening a store in virtually every town, it seems that now the next supermarket mission is to flood the out-of-town retail parks too.

    Now the writing is on the wall and it may be too late … unless the Government amends its terrible supermarket planning policies.

    Mary Portas main recommendations to save town centres are below:

    Getting our town centres running like businesses

    · Put in place a “Town Team”: a visionary, strategic and strong operational
    management team for high streets

    · Empower successful Business Improvement Districts to take on more
    responsibilities and powers and become “Super-BIDs”

    · Legislate to allow landlords to become high street investors by contributing to
    their Business Improvement District

    · Establish a new “National Market Day” where budding shopkeepers can try their
    hand at operating a low-cost retail business

    · Make it easier for people to become market traders by removing unnecessary
    regulations so that anyone can trade on the high street unless there is a valid
    reason why not

    Getting the basics right to allow business to flourish

    · Government should consider whether business rates can better support small
    businesses and independent retailers

    · Local authorities should use their new discretionary powers to give business rate
    concessions to new local businesses

    · Make business rates work for business by reviewing the use of the RPI with a
    view to changing the calculation to CPI

    · Local areas should implement free controlled parking schemes that work for their
    town centres and we should have a new parking league table

    · Town Teams should focus on making high streets accessible, attractive and safe

    · Government should include high street deregulation as part of their ongoing work
    on freeing up red tape

    · Address the restrictive aspects of the ‘Use Class’ system to make it easier to
    change the uses of key properties on the high street

    · Put betting shops into a separate ‘Use Class’ of their own

    Levelling the playing field

    · Make explicit a presumption in favour of town centre development in the wording
    of the National Planning Policy Framework

    · Introduce Secretary of State “exceptional sign off” for all new out-of-town
    developments and require all large new developments to have an “affordable
    shops” quota

    · Large retailers should support and mentor local businesses and independent
    retailers

    · Retailers should report on their support of local high streets in their annual report
    Defining landlords’ roles and responsibilities

    · Encourage a contract of care between landlords and their commercial tenants by
    promoting the leasing code and supporting the use of lease structures other than
    upward only rent reviews, especially for small businesses

    · Explore further disincentives to prevent landlords from leaving units vacant

    · Banks who own empty property on the high street should either administer these
    assets well or be required to sell them

    · Local authorities should make more proactive use of Compulsory Purchase
    Order powers to encourage the redevelopment of key high street retail
    space

    · Empower local authorities to step in when landlords are negligent with new
    “Empty Shop Management Orders”

    · Introduce a public register of high street landlords

    Giving communities a greater say

    · Run a high profile campaign to get people involved in Neighbourhood Plans

    · Promote the inclusion of the High Street in Neighbourhood Plans

    · Developers should make a financial contribution to ensure that the local
    community has a strong voice in the planning system

    · Support imaginative community use of empty properties through
    Community Right to Buy, Meanwhile Use and a new “Community Right to
    Try”