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Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2007, 11:37 GMT
MPs debate 'ghost towns' bill
The bill aims to give people more power to protect their high streets
A bid to give councils more power to save shops and reverse the decline of "ghost towns", is being debated by MPs.

Tory backbencher Nick Hurd said that over a decade towns had suffered a "remorseless decline" losing local post offices, grocers, shops and banks.

His Sustainable Communities Bill aims to give them more power to reverse it and challenge government spending decision in their area.

But ministers say a change in the law would be too bureaucratic.

The bill would give councils the right to demand a breakdown of government spending on their services, and to go back to ministers with their own alternative allocations.

'Real teeth'

It would also require ministers to give the issue of promoting "sustainable communities" more priority, and to come up with a long-term plan to do so, in co-operation with local people.

Mr Hurd said the bill, which is on its Second Reading in the House of Commons, would give "real teeth" to local agreements.

He told MPs many towns and villages felt "the guts of their communities have been ripped out" and not enough was being done to stop it.

It's a decline driven by the loss of key local services, often the hubs of the community
Nick Hurd MP

Mr Hurd says he has cross-party support for his bill, as well as that of many community groups.

"What drives this rainbow coalition? It's a common concern about what appears to be remorseless community decline in Britain and what that means for the quality of life.

"It's a decline driven by the loss of key local services, often the hubs of the community.

"In the last decade we've lost a fifth of our post office network, a quarter of our local grocery stores, a quarter of our bank branch network and over 30,000 independent community retailers."

The bill's campaign organiser Ron Bailey said his own community, the Culverley Green Estate in Catford, south-east London, was among areas which had suffered.

"When I first moved here we had a variety of shops, florists, greengrocers, butchers, post offices, wet fish shop, bakers - all these kind of things.

"It looked vibrant, it was vibrant. It declined. It doesn't look good anymore. There's fried chicken-type places, second hand car-type places, place that all look the same."

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