MPs battle to save the nation's high streets

A last-minute attempt to persuade the Government to allow local authorities to step in to save independent shops disappearing from the high street will be made in the House of Lords this week.

Amid mounting concern about the plight of small retailers in the face of spreading supermarket chains, Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs have drafted amendments to the Localism Bill designed to safeguard the character of neighbourhood shopping streets.

Under the Labour proposals, which are backed by the Association of Convenience Stores, councils will be required to put in place a retail-diversity scheme based on the wishes of the local community. Similar proposals by the Liberal Democrats will also seek to tilt the balance of power back towards local authorities, which are often unable to oppose the arrival of a large supermarket.

In May, the Government announced it was setting up an independent inquiry on the issue under Mary Portas, a retail consultant who presents Mary Queen of Shops on BBC2. It is not expected to report back until November. Labour said it hoped to put the safeguarding of traditional shopping areas on a statutory basis before then. Jack Dromey, shadow minister for Communities and Local Government, said local councils should have a duty to help popular small shops survive.

Mr Dromey said: "Unless we have retail diversity and councils charged with ensuring the interests of small retailers are paramount, then what you will have is that dreadful combination of the continued decline of the high street all over Britain and its Tesco-isation, particularly of the South of England."

Opposition to the growth of supermarkets has recently resulted in rioting in Bristol and high-profile challenges to the arrival of big stores in places such as Cambridge. Meanwhile, the number of vacant shops has tripled to 14 per cent since 2007.

The Liberal Democrat Lord Greaves said it was important not just to save town centres, but district shopping streets. "This is an issue that people really care about," Lord Greaves said. "The amendment we are putting down would put the emphasis on the character of a local development."

In April, a report by ResPublica, a think-tank close to David Cameron, called for a levy to be imposed on the big supermarkets which could be redistributed to small shopkeepers in the form of rate relief.

Greg Clark, the Planning minister, said last month that the Government was considering cutting red tape to encourage "meanwhile uses" of empty shops to breathe new life into declining high streets and stimulate entrepreneurship.

According to figures from the British Independent Retailers Association, in 2009 there was a net loss of 5,204 shops. The following year this figure dropped to 2,298 while 298 disappeared in the first five months of 2011 – mostly due to rising rent.

Case study: Abdul Arain: Cambridge shopkeeper leading the fight against the 'Big Four'

Campaigners in Cambridge say their city is in danger of becoming another clone town. Opposition is mounting against plans to open a Sainsbury's supermarket in a former snooker hall not far from a new Tesco in Mill Road.

To draw attention of the issue, a local shopkeeper Abdul Arain is standing against Lord Sainsbury to succeed the Duke of Edinburgh as chancellor of Cambridge University.

Mr Arain, who owns the Al-Amin grocery store in Mill Road, said the university should be in the "vanguard" of the local community. He said: "Local shops, the butcher, the baker, the newsagent, are reduced to one multiples outlet. There's a compounding effect. People who would normally invest in that area and take pride in that area, are gone. The consequences are antisocial behaviour, an area deprived of its soul."

He said the "Big Four" – Asda, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Morrisons – should not be allowed to sweep aside local opposition.

His campaign follows a 5,000-signature petition opposing Tesco's 14th outlet in Cambridge, in which 1,000 people objected to the planning application.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links