Page last updated at 18:57 GMT, Thursday, 10 July 2008 19:57 UK

Tougher rules to help small shops

Morrisons, Asda, Sainsbury's and Tesco stores
The government says existing rules have stifled consumer choice

Planning rules aimed at helping town centres by curbing the development of out-of-town superstores have been unveiled by the government.

The new guidelines will give local councils more scope to refuse developments that threaten the vibrancy of town centres.

Previously councils only had to assess if there was enough consumer spending capacity to support a new development.

The proposed shake-up is now subject to a 12-week consultation period.

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears said the existing rules had stifled diversity and consumer choice.

"Town centres are the hearts of our communities," she said.

"I want to see our town centres and independent shops busy and thriving."

More factors

Under the new rules, councils will examine factors including retail diversity, loss of trade, impact on town centre investment, scope for regeneration and job creation.

The rules make clear that, if a proposed out-of-town development is deemed to have a significant impact on a town centre, planning permission could be refused.

Earlier this year, the Competition Commission investigation into the UK grocery market recommended the government introduce a "competition test" into the planning system for large supermarkets.

Although the government has yet to formally respond to that report, it said the consultation launched on Thursday "was a signal of intent".


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