Retailers and local residents will have to form a united front and persuade their local councils to ‘opt in’ to the new Sustainable Communities Act, launched by communities secretary Hazel Blears earlier this month.

The Act gives communities the power to tell government how to stop decline in their area. However, councils are not obliged to adopt the Act, and may be reluctant to do so for cost or administrative reasons.

Steve Shaw, campaign co-ordinator of Local Works, a coalition of national organisations campaigning to promote the use of the Act, said that councils must be prevailed upon to take part. “Used correctly, the Act could help communities protect their local post offices and even keep small stores open by levelling the playing field between operators,” he said.

“It gives government a legal duty ‘to assist local authorities in promoting the sustainability of local communities’, so by ‘opting in’ they are signing up to receive that assistance.”

Shaw added: “There may be a large supermarket near you with parking spaces for which it does not pay non-domestic business rates. Compare this with local shops whose trade is affected by yellow lines and parking costs. Point out this is not a level playing field and suggest the secretary of state gives local councils the power to levy rates on the spaces.”

Local Works has a downloadable sample letter for retailers to send to their local councils urging them to ‘opt in’ to the Act. Go to www.localworks.org.

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