Julian Huppert MP discusses his Private Member’s Bill, which would help communities protect local pubs and shops
Road is one of the most popular streets in my constituency. The majority of
pubs and shops which populate it are diverse, popular and profitable. Yet
residents have had to fight tooth and nail to protect it from succumbing to the
clone town syndrome.
have only very limited powers to stop local independent shops becoming chains,
and supermarkets taking over the local grocer’s.
story is replicated across the country. Some see this as the inevitable, onward
march of high street chains and supermarkets. This is simply not the case, and
nor should we allow it to happen.
pubs can sit right at the heart of a local community. The Eagle, in Cambridge,
was the site where Watson and Crick announced they had discovered the secret of
life – the structure of DNA. It’s fair to say that they didn’t carry out their
research down the local, but it was the heart of the academic community –
scientific advancements were planned, announced and disseminated here.
fleeting conversations over a drink, between academics and entrepreneurs, have
created partnerships and founded companies. The Panton Arms was responsible for
the success of Solexa – a £600 million business when sold to Illumina.
course, most pubs have less involvement with an academic or business community.
They’re the place people go to socialise, relax and enjoy their lives – they
are the hub of local communities. Put simply, they contribute enormously to
people’s happiness and their wellbeing, and are much lamented when lost.
rather than alcohol, is usually the focus of the evening in a pub. Landlords
can control excessive drinking. And rural pubs can quite literally keep whole
villages on the map.
all of this, pubs are closing at a rate of 12 a week. In Cambridge, we’ve lost
over 20 in the last 3 years. Even those which are profitable and popular have
found themselves under threat.
Flying Pig, near Cambridge station, for example, is immensely popular, and more
and more profitable every year, especially now that it is a free house. It is
threatened with demolition, to be turned into flats. The Council simply doesn’t
have the tools that it needs to help save it.
picture is bleaker still when it comes to our local, independent shops.12,000
of them closed in 2009. On every high street now, you can see many of the same
shops. Chains of coffee shops, clothes shops, betting shops.
have many advantages; economies of scale help, and they can afford better
lawyers, and cheaper rent. And, quite clearly, people do like shopping in them.
too many, and our high streets become identikit clones of each other. We lose
the variety that makes our towns and cities special and different from each
other. And when we lose that variety, it
is incredibly hard to get it back.
economic impact of this shift is worrying. A 2009 report by the New Economics
Foundation found that twice the money is kept in a local community if people
buy local, than if they buy from a chain.
can offer below-cost deals in order to force independent competitors out, so
that they are lost forever, and then push up the prices once they have obtained
a local monopoly.
loss of pubs and local shops is inextricably linked with the rise of
supermarkets. In Cambridge alone we now have 15 Tescos.
it’s clear that supermarkets are successful because people like shopping in
them. But there is an enormous risk that their ascendancy can end up harming a
local community, and residents can do nothing to stop it.
powers apply nationally – but the residents of Mill Road in Cambridge care very
little whether a supermarket holds a national monopoly. They care immensely if
it is the only local place they can shop – if a supermarket has a local
monopoly which eradicates a local high street, much loved for its diversity.
causes for the crisis on our high streets are manifold, some were identified by
the Portas review. But more is still needed.
Bill which I introduced would enable local authorities, should they choose to,
to use stronger planning powers to help protect local pubs and shops.
would do this by allowing the use of locally determined “use classes” to
separate local independent shops from chains, and supermarkets from other
grocers, as well as new constraints on changing use away from pubs.
change is relatively simple. And there is no requirement for communities to use
it; it’s up to the Council. What works in one area may not be the best solution
it would allow communities to stand back, and question whether a new
supermarket would depress the high street, whether a local pub is at the heart
of a community, and whether their local high street is worth defending.