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PRA calls for new planning rules to stop hypermarkets 'steam-rollering' local businesses into oblivion
Published:  25 January, 2013

Nick Boles MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Planning, has been urged by the Petrol Retailer’s Association to develop new planning guidance for filling stations that prevents hypermarkets steam-rollering local businesses into oblivion without due process taking place.

In a letter to Boles at the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) this week, PRA chairman Brian Madderson, expressed serious concern for the independent fuel-retailing sector, which has seen more than 2,300 closures in the past few years.

“They have been forced to close as the hypermarkets and certain oil companies continue to price at levels close to and below the national daily wholesale cost for retail road fuels,” stressed Madderson.

“The closure rate represents about 35% of all independent petrol retailers with those in rural areas such as East Anglia and the South West faring worst. This is bad for jobs, bad for local facilities including convenience stores, and devastating for those small businesses afflicted often in the third generation of family ownership.”

Madderson has written to the Rt Hon Oliver Letwin MP for Government Policy, and to the Rt Hon Ed Davey MP, Secretary of State at DECC, to highlight our deep concerns about continuing forecourt closures following the research conducted by Christie & Co, which indicates that hypermarkets are obtaining planning consents for both forecourts at existing stores and new out-of-town developments at the rate of 40 to 50 per year.

“A major issue here is that under existing Planning Regulations, there is no rigorous ‘impact’ test to determine what effect an additional filling station will have on existing facilities. With a retail road fuels market that is now firmly on a declining trend, every new outlet takes volume away from existing independent outlets,” complained Madderson.

He pointed out that many of these filling stations provided a much wider range of services than a typical hypermarket forecourt. For example, many supply red diesel essential for farming communities; many have local shops including post offices and cash machines; over 70% of hi-speed offset HGV facilities are on independent sites; some have garage workshops with MOT bays.

“As stated in your new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF para 70), planners should ‘guard against the unnecessary loss of valued facilities and services, particularly where this would reduce the community’s ability to meet its day-to-day needs’; and should also ‘ensure that established shops and facilities are able to develop and modernise in a way that is sustainable and retained for the benefit of the community’, wrote Madderson.

“I urge you to develop new planning guidance for filling stations that prevents hypermarkets steam-rollering such local businesses into oblivion without due process taking place. We are not asking for preferential treatment… All the PRA is asking for is a level playing field that provides a measure of protection to vital existing businesses.”

Madderson stressed that while petrol stations may not be that glamorous, “once they are gone they are gone”.

He wrote: “The impact of the hypermarkets in this regard is far, far greater than, for example, the pressure on rural pubs in relation to which the planning system has intervened on numerous occasions to save them from closure. There is also a major and wider public interest issue involved as forecourt stocks are obliterated from around the country and our retail road fuels energy resilience weakens yet further every passing month.”