Friday, 04 November 2011 13:40

Save village shops, urges minister

Written by  Ruralcity Media
Save village shops, urges minister

THE government is calling on parish councils to safeguard struggling village shops and pubs.

Local government minister Grant Shapps said parish councils could save village shops and pubs for the benefit of local people.

If a community shop, pub or village post office is threatened with closure, parish councils could use their powers to keep it running, he said.

"The village shop, pub or post office is often the beating heart of a community," said Mr Shapps.

"So when one is threatened with closure, often for a reason as simple as the shop owner or pub landlord retiring, I would expect the local parish council to pull out all the stops to keep it going."

This included the provision of financial support, Mr Shapps said.

Parish councils could also start new community shops or services by giving small grants or, where appropriate, or purchasing a freehold on a property.

"Some have done this brilliantly, but many have watched local amenities close when the power to save them was within their grasp."

This was not about propping up failing businesses, Mr Shapps insisted.

"It is often about providing temporary financial assistance or putting new community-run facilities in place, so vital services that people rely on are maintained."

Councils should sit down with their local community and make sure every effort is made keep rural services alive, said Mr Shapps.

The government was shifting more powers from Whitehall to neighbourhoods, so councils have new freedoms and flexibilities to protect local services.

Powers within the Localism Bill would enable parish councils to offer discretionary business rates discounts for local businesses.

In doing so after negotiation with district councils, they would be able to better protect local shops through policies in their neighbourhood plan.

More parish councils should follow those that had already helped save save their local village shop, said Mr Shapps.

In West Sussex, Milland Parish Council wanted a community shop in the village that could provide much needed retail and postal facilities.

The shop was included in the Parish Plan, and to start the project off the council took out a £40,000 public works loan, which encouraged other funding bodies to provide grants totalling £110,000.

Working with the local community, the council raised further funds taking the total raised to £168,000. An extra £30,000 was provided through village fund raising and events.

The building is now nearing completion, and is expected to become a true community hub that complements the social activity of the Village Hall and local churches.

It will include a café, internet access for those less confident using the internet, and emergency deliveries of groceries for the elderly and infirm during bad weather.

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