Some 72 of a possible 410 local authorities have chosen to adopt the new Sustainable Communities Act, which gives local people and businesses the power to tell government how to improve quality of life in their area.

This number is expected to increase dramatically over the next few weeks following a public meeting held at the Houses of Parliament last week.

A number of high-profile political figures, including Oliver Letwin MP, chairman of the Conservative policy review, and Julia Goldsworthy, shadow secretary of state for communities and local government, were in attendance.

The Act could be used to help protect local post offices and keep small stores open.

Steve Shaw, campaign co-ordinator of Local Works, the coalition of organisations campaigning to promote use of the Act, said: "This Act has the power to make positive changes to local communities."