Independent retailers have to get involved with the local plans for their communities to prevent large multiple operators from using new localism powers to their advantage, according to leading planners and the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS).

The call came at the ACS’ annual Heart of the Community seminar in London, held in the wake of Royal Assent for the government’s Localism Act, granted last month. ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “Local retailers have to be engaged with the planning process. Local authorities want to hear from sensible, passionate local retailers, and you can make your voice heard.”

Speaking at the seminar, the Town & Country Planning Association’s chief planner Hugh Ellis said it was vital that independent retailers get involved in the planning process to prevent the new regime being exploited by large multiples.

“The Localism Act is the most radical change to the planning framework since 1947,” he explained. “Big, strategic regional planning has been abolished, and decision-making has shifted down the scale from local to neighbourhood level.

“The system will be more fragmented, but every local area will need a local plan. It’s a lot harder to object against developments once the plan has been drawn up, so the smart money is to get involved from the start. The most powerful part of the Act is the ability for retailers to help create a vision for how the local community should look. Now is the time to start forming alliances and building relationships with local planners.”

At the same time, Lowman called on government to provide stronger safeguards in the planning process to prevent more communities from becoming ‘clone towns’.

The government’s updated National Planning Policy Framework is to be published in the new year.