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Tuesday, 11 January, 2000, 14:24 GMT
Keep supermarkets off the greenbelt - MPs

Supermarkets: Out-of-town locations rely on car use

New supermarkets must be built in town centres to save local communities, curb pollution and conserve the green-belt, MPs have warned.

A report by the Commons Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee has called for compulsory purchase orders to be used to find suitable places for supermarkets in town and city centres.

The MPs also called for the retention of strict planning laws, which restrict the development of out of town supermarkets.

The cross-party plea comes after the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Commission raised the possibility of relaxing planning laws which some fear may reduce economic growth.

Out of town supermarkets create traffic and congestion
But the Committee's Labour chair, Gwyneth Dunwoody, told BBC News Online that there was no evidence to suggest current planning laws affected growth.

"Current policy is seeking to prevent the complete haemorrhage of commerce away from the centres of our cities and into the outskirts, or worse onto the green-belt, without damaging the commercial interests of the firms concerned," she said.

The committee's report also attempted to clear up confusion surrounding a meeting between Prime Minister Tony Blair and the head of the Asda supermarket chain which prompted further speculation that the planning laws may be reviewed.

Those of us who have watched the destruction of our towns and villages by the construction of large supermarkets are very happy the existing planning law is seeking to try and redress the balance.
Gwyneth Dunwoody MP
Mrs Dunwoody said the committee had received a categorical assurance that the issue had not been raised at the meeting.

Spelling out what it hopes is the future of supermarkets, the report said: "We expect that, in all but exceptional circumstances, new supermarkets will be in urban centres or on edge-of-town sites, which can be the best site in some historic towns, where a supermarket in the town centre could be very damaging.

"However, if we are to have more supermarkets in town centres, they must be built to a much better design than most existing stores."

MPs said they were "appalled" by the "irresponsible" decision of the Office of Fair Trading to refer planning matters to the Competition Commission without seeking the advice of planning experts at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

Despite the air of confusion over future planning policy Planning Minister Nick Raynsford was praised by the committee for his "robust defence" of government policy.

"He made clear the Detr will not change its policy, whatever the findings of the Competition Commission in respect of planning," the report said.

'Hard hitting report'

Speaking for the environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth, Simon McRae welcomed the report as "hard hitting"

"Big out-of-town supermarkets have damaged town centres and put small community shops out of business," he said.

"We want Mr Blair to make it clear that planning policy guidance on out of town developments and restrictions on car parking will not be relaxed to suit the demands of the retail giants."

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See also:
11 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Cautious welcome for green belt overhaul

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