Saturday, April 27, 2013

Leicester council vote may help revive corner shops in the city

Going by the account I heard of it, the other day Leicester City Council's planning committee, in a fit of sentiment, ignored their own policies in order to allow a widowed mother to open a shop.

The Leicester Mercury account of the meeting bears this out and quotes the council planning chair Patrick Kitterick:
"I would caution councillors that if we give this approval we will have an absolute queue of people who want to open outside defined shopping areas. 
"This decision will have implications across Leicester. 
"In a week's time what do we say to someone who tells us they have a house in another street, or a factory in Green Lane Road, and ask can I have a shop?"
He is right about the dangers of allowing sentiment to override policy. I was no planning expert, but in my days on Harborough DC I knew that if you allowed a development in a rural area it was a good idea to grant the that permission to a named individual. Otherwise, you might find the cottage you had allowed for poor old Jethro the farmworker on the market as a holiday home a couple of months later.

But is Leicester's policy of allowing new shops only in "defined shopping areas" the right one?

I can recall, again in my days as a councillor, attending a housing conference where one of the speakers said something like:
"We used to be keen to get rid of what we called 'non-standard planning uses'. Only when it was too late did we realise that we had been talking about small businesses."
And, as one of the city councillors pointed out in this week's debate, these working-class housing developments were designed to have a shop on every corner. And the loss of these little shops, often run by a wife while her husband had a job outside the home, is one of the causes of the dwindling of working-class culture.

Indeed, when I worked in the Highfields of area during the Leicester South by-election of 2004, I was struck by how traditionally English this Muslim area was. There were still corner shops and children playing in the street.

The supermarkets have it too much their own way as it is. So, widow or no widow, I am pleased to see Leicester councillors subverting their own policies in this way.

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