Page last updated at 08:05 GMT, Saturday, 25 July 2009 09:05 UK

New rules 'threat to High Street'

A row of empty shop units in Bristol in January 2009
The rules were introduced to protect small retailers from large stores

Traditional high streets could be put at risk from out-of-town shopping areas unless proposed changes to planning rules are scrapped, MPs have said.

Ministers want to replace the "need test", which aims to prevent excessive retail park or supermarket development.

However, the communities select committee wants it retained to prevent town centres being damaged.

Communities Minister John Healey said the changes meant "greater safeguards for the high street, not less".

The Association of Convenience Stores has welcomed the MPs' report.

'Undesirable effects'

The need test was created in response to complaints that smaller shops were being damaged by chains developing larger stores.

It forced planning committees to address whether the local community needed the proposed superstore.

However, a 2005 review of planning regulations found the test was having "undesirable effects", such as restricting competition and consumer choice.

The government announced plans to scrap it two years later.

It wants to introduce broader "impact assessments" in its place.

In its report, the cross-party Commons committee said it was not convinced the test was having adverse effects.

"On the contrary, we have heard from representatives of developers, of local planning groups, that it is serving a useful - some say essential - function," it said.

The MPs said the timing of the change could worsen its effects.

"In the current economic climate, the removal of the need test would present unnecessary risks to town centres," it concluded.

However, Mr Healey said the needs test was "dysfunctional" and the new system would "protect the vibrancy of town centres by requiring developers to carry out assessments into key factors including retail diversity, consumer spending, loss of trade and job creation".

He added: "The government is helping small shops and other high street retailers manage their business rates with £2bn rate relief support next year and from next month they will be able to spread this years inflation increases over the next two years.

"Special waivers for local planning applications are also helping small businesses during this difficult time."

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