Decisions made by the government over the coming month or so will define the retail landscape and shape communities for the next decade, the Association of Convenience Stores claims.
The ACS has persuaded Jack Dromey MP, Alison Seabeck MP and Barbara Keeley MP to table amendments to the Localism Bill, which is being debated in Parliament this week. The amendments will make it law for councils to promote the high street and resist out-of-town development.
Recent research by the Local Data Company shows empty shops in town centres have doubled since 2008. On average, one in seven sites is empty.
"The debate on the Localism Bill, as well as the budget in March, will be a massive statement of the government's intentions around growth." said ACS public affairs director Shane Brennan.
"We want that growth to benefit the whole retail sector, not just those wanting to build outof-town supermarkets.", Brennan said.
Brennan warned that the ACS is preparing for a lengthy battle on the issue.
"There are obviously some voices who have a very big interest in building stores out of town that will see this amendment as an inconvenience; that it gets in the way of building new stores and the market should be allowed a free for all," he said.
"They say, 'Let the winners win and the losers lose". We reject that! We will be tenacious and keep coming back. We will keep pushing until the amendment becomes law. This is not about protecting individual retailers. It is about protecting the places people go to shop, protecting the conununity and preserving the identity of a town. If you replace those elements with generic out-of-town retail parks, we will lose something socially important."
Independent retailers fear that while the Localism Bill is intended to give communities greater say over planning decisions, a lack of a national planning framework will leave local councils vulnerable to pressure from big retailers with large legal teams.