7 October 2008

In 2004, the New Economics Foundation (NEF) published a report about ‘Clone Town Britain’ denouncing the “destruction of our high streets, local shops and independent retailers”. So who is destroying our town centres and how can we stop them?

THE NEF is an independent  think-tank which hopes to inspire and demonstrate the potential economic well being and quality of life of Britain. They believe that Britain is rapidly losing its local shops and services, something they believe is the “economic backbone” and “social glue” of rural and urban communities.

woolworths is the anti-christ

woolworths is the devil, according to the report

For the NEF, chain stores are to blame. They argue that the individual character of many towns is disappearing as independent retailers, newsagents, tobacconists, pubs, bookshops and green grocers are replaced with supermarkets, fast food chains and other chain stores. Also that “regeneration” of town centres has led to a destruction of traditional town centre architecture in favour of pre-fabricated chain stores.

They believe that the homogenisation of Britain’s high streets has created a loss of diversity and choice, a loss of local character and individualism of town centres, damaged the local economy as profits drain out of the town and into corporate headquarters.

The 2005 survey identified Exeter was the worst example of a clone town in the UK, with just one independent shop on the city’s high street, and less retail diversity than any other town surveyed. Other examples include Stafford, Middlesbrough, Winchester and Maidenhead. In spite of having the highest property prices in the country, London is far from becoming a clone town, thanks to a huge diversity of businesses, as a result of the city’s large size and cosmopolitan population.

The opposing argument is that large chain stores have grown because their products, prices and convenience have outstripped the competition, making chain stores welcome arrivals in small town centres. The benefits of large businesses to employment and local services are also said to improve the local economy.

Developers will argue that big chain retailers bring money into local areas, but NEF’s analysis shows that the opposite is true, and money begins to leave the locality. When money is spent in these chain retailers, very little of the proceeds stay local.

The NEF argue that local authorities, planning agencies, regeneration bodies and regional development agencies need to monitor local money flows to help guide retail development, and encourage those businesses which benefit the community most.

Barnet Council refused permission for a Tesco Express in Finchley. The London borough of Hackney says that “The Council will use its powers and its role as landlord where possible to protect essential facilities. The following uses will be be considered ‘essential local shops’: food shops such as bakers, butchers, greengrocers and special ethnic food shops”.


One Response to “WTF IS A CLONE TOWN?”

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