Closure of small shops 'threatens to wipe out way of life'

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The Independent Online

Britain's smallest towns and villages are losing 50 specialist shops a week, a trend which threatens to wipe out community life in a generation, a report warned yesterday.

The departures of butchers, bakers, fishmongers and news-agents in the five years to 2002 deprived communities of essential local services and income, said the green think- tank, New Economics Foundation (NEF).

A year ago, NEF disclosed what it called "ghost town Britain", the closure of a fifth (or 30,000) of the nation's corner shops, grocers, high street banks, post offices and pubs between 1995 and 2000. It said the number of outlets could drop by a further third by 2010. The phenomenon of dying communities would spread from villages to towns of 3,000 residents or more, it claimed.

Since the last findings, the decline of local economies has continued as supermarket chains have increased their stranglehold on retailing, yesterday's report said. The Rural Shops Alliance also estimated that last year there were fewer than 12,000 rural shops left, and Grocer magazine said 300 were closing every year.

The NEF, which blames lax planning regulations for the growth of out-of-town supermarkets, said post office branch closures also increased in the year to March 2003, despite a government commitment to keep them open. And a third of the bank network shut from 1992 till 2002, leaving 800 communities with none and 1,000 with only one. Twenty traditional pubs close every month.

Andrew Simms, co-author of the report, recommends regulatory changes to nurture locally driven regeneration. These include a local competition policy to ensure a supermarket cannot drive out small businesses; support for local procurement and a mandatory supermarket code of conduct.