Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Saving Wales and The Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England

The on-going struggle to retain the Livestock Market in Abergavenny has touched on number of key issues which affect our communities - large and small. We need a real debate about Town Planning (in Monmouthshire and elsewhere) and the implications of ill-thought out and over-development in our communities – no longer must the interests of individuals, small businesses and local communities be brushed aside by elected and non-elected officials who seek to serve the questionable interests of big business at the expense of the communities they should serve.

The views of the citizens should be regularly sought and heeded, rather than regularly avoided and ignored – both Westminster and the Plaid driven One Wales Government must seek to take a lead, actively working with Local Authorities to ensure that the views of the citizens are actually listened too and the unique character of our large and small towns preserved. So rather than acting as mere agents for an unholy alliance of town planners, secretive county council cabinets and carpet-bagging development companies, our Local Authorities and elected representatives should actually stand up for their local communities.

An excellent piece of work on this very subject was produced by 'The Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England' (CPRE) - their report: ‘A Real Choice’ has exposed the damage done by superstores to the small town rural economy something that should be seriously considered in relation to any proposed retail development that would affect small towns across Monmouth constituency - and would make excellent bedtime reading for the ruling Conservative Group on Monmouthshire County Council (MCC).

The CPRE report makes a valuable indirect contribution to the on-going debate over the future of the rural economy in Monmouthshire (and the rest of Wales). When it comes to the really big issues and a sustainable and prosperous economy in every one of the small towns of Monmouth constituency is one of the biggest, it is important to be able to think outside the envelope and make long-term rather than short-term cash focused decisions. The redevelopment and retention of a living and breathing economic heart in our small towns is vital not just to the town’s continued prosperity but to the surrounding rural economy.

The role of local shops and local retailers in our communities across Monmouth constituency and beyond is coming under increasing threat from:

  • Supermarket domination of the local retail economy
  • Over regulation– which places a disproportionate burden on small businesses and damages their competitiveness
  • Inconsistent interpretation of planning polices which fail to take into account the impact that supermarkets have on independent retailers and the economic consequences of their demise on market towns and villages.
  • The proposed withdrawal of the Post Office Card Accounts; and
  • The General lack of information about food and where it comes from.

There has been an increased recognition of late of the benefits of local food economies and the important role of local shops and retailers, despite this government has increasingly caved into pressures to weaken the ordinary people’s involvement in the planning process. The CPRE report exposed some of the real costs that are paid by local retailers and small businesses and consumers as retail planning policy is increasingly driven to benefit large scale superstore developments, which continue to aggressively expand their market share at the expense of local retailers, suppliers and customers.

Surveys (in 2005) revealed that 70% of British Shoppers would like to buy local food and 49% would like to buy more than they do. The continued expansion of the supermarket sector market share is at the expense of independent shops – this means that shoppers have little opportunity to buy fresh, seasonal, traditional and easily traceable distinctive local food.

This is not about nimbyism, because Supermarkets and high quality food stores definitely have their place in the urban and rural economy but their contribution could be significantly enhanced if they stocked more locally grown, produced and clearly labeled local foodstuffs as they do in Brittany, something that would bring benefits to both farmers and consumers alike. The continued popularity of local farmers markets across South Wales has shown that the public is more than happy to buy quality local produce and to support local retailers. Yet most supermarkets have between 1% and 2% turnover from local food producers, something that badly serves local food producers and customers alike.


The Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England

The Real Choice report published by CPRE and Plunkett Foundation is based on surveys by Caroline Cranbrook over eight years monitoring a broad area of towns and villages in East Suffolk. It reveals that local foods are flourishing and growing since a planned superstore was turned down.


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