Britain is 'saturated with superstores': Shoppers want to safeguard town centres, survey shows

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MOST people think Britain has enough shops, according to a survey. They do not want new supermarkets in their neighbourhood and believe that existing shops give them enough choice.

A survey of 1,500 people, commissioned by the Consumers' Association and submitted to the Commons select committee on the environment yesterday, confirms the widespread perception that many parts of Britain have reached saturation point in the provision of superstores. It also shows people are against more out-of-town developments if this means damaging town centres.

Questioned about the adequacy of shops in their area, 68 per cent said they thought there was no need for new ones. Of the remainder, 15 per cent said they would like more town centre shops or convenience stores and 13 per cent more out-of-town facilities.

Shopping in town centres is also three times more popular than at out-of-town centres: 45 per cent preferred it, compared with 16 per cent who chose out- of-town. Town centres are liked for their convenience, closeness, variety and because of their smaller, local shops. The main reasons cited by those favouring out-of-town shopping are car parking, choice, the fact that everything is under cover or under one roof and that they are seen as less crowded.

The environment committee is investigating shopping centres in the light of the Government's recent switch in policy aimed at revitalising town centres and clamping down on out-of-town sites. There has also been growing controversy over the building of 'unnecessary' superstores by groups such as Sainsbury, Tesco and Safeway.

The grocery chains say local surveys often reveal consumer support for proposed superstores - a finding reinforced by the survey, which found that 39 per cent were generally in favour of more out-of-town shopping, 27 per cent were against and 30 per cent had no opinion.

However, when respondents were asked what their views would be on out-of-town development if it meant a loss in town centre shops - as the Government argues it does - the situation is reversed. Only 12 per cent favour it, with 39 per cent against and 49 per cent who have no opinion or are uncertain.

The association says the findings suggest that 'consumers want and, indeed, need better information about the likely impact of out-of-town developments on town centres in order to make up their mind about such issues'.

Among the reasons cited against out-of-town developments, after the potential harm to towns and the difficulties of access to them, was that they were environmentally unfriendly, a factor mentioned by 17 per cent of those opposed to them.

However, representatives of the association and of the British Retail Consortium criticised the Government's proposals to restrict cars in towns.

Mark Bradshaw, an assistant director of the consortium, said that ease and cheapness of parking were key elements of a town centre's competitiveness. Revitalising towns but restricting car parking in them was a 'major point of inconsistency' in the new planning guidelines.

Interviews for the study, part of the Omnimas omnibus survey, took place with 1,517 adults from 18-22 March.