A report on the future of independent shops has proposed radical new changes to help protect local retailers and “reverse the decline of the high street”.

Compiled by think tank ResPublica, the report ‘The Right to Retail - Can Localism Save Britain’s Small Retailers?’ sets out a raft of changes to current planning laws that would “level the playing field between large and small retailers”.

It proposes a re-examining of business rates involving levies for out-of-town retailers which would be re-distributed to allow for relief for designated businesses.

It also recommends more powers for communities when it comes to deciding on what businesses are allowed in towns; the right to appeal for communities where a development contradicts an existing neighbourhood plan; and the encouragement of local enterprise partnerships to include small and medium business owners.

ResPublica director Philip Blond said that urgent change is needed in order for local retailers to survive. “For too long government has viewed big as beautiful in retail competition,” he said. “The rise of these vast supermarkets, with the infrastructure needed to sustain them, a bias in the planning system and their enormous purchasing power has crowded out competition. These developments have made it impossible for small retailers to grow.”

The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), which commissioned the report, welcomed the recommendations. “There has been a ‘slavish support’ for supermarkets with the belief that they kept inflation down and created jobs but the reality is that all business models need to be catered for when it comes to planning legislation,” said ACS chief executive James Lowman. “The ‘big is beautiful’ mentality needs to be reconsidered and small businesses to be taken into account. This report will help engage those in power to consider the retail industry as a whole.”
Scottish Grocers Federation (SGF) chief executive John Drummond hoped the government would give careful consideration to the proposals laid out in the report. “Town centres are under threat across Scotland,” he said. “If we want to protect local shops and reverse the growth of ghost towns in Scotland, a radical new approach to town centre development is the only option.”