Supermarket planning bid to help protect small stores

Community councillors are unhappy at Sainsbury's move to Morningside
Community councillors are unhappy at Sainsbury's move to Morningside
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SUPERMARKET giants would have to apply for planning permission before taking over small independent stores under new rules proposed by the city council.

The move would mean councillors could scrutinise and technically halt a bid from large chains to muscle into the high street.

Under current legislation, a retailer can move into empty premises of similar use without having to go through the planning process – for example, Sainsbury’s recently taking over Peckham’s in Bruntsfield.

The council has now agreed to write to the Scottish Government calling for a change in the law.

Even if the measure, which would require a Bill going through Holyrood, was adopted, it would be too late for campaigners in Bruntsfield, or those in Morningside attempting to halt the arrival of a new Costa branch. Attempts to block certain retailers from opening may also be open to legal challenges.

Leonora Luca, 35, who runs the Luca ice cream shop at Holy Corner, said it was worth a try. She said: “If this can stop the change Morningside has seen over the last few years it can only be positive.”

She added: “You don’t get people coming from far around to go to a Starbucks, but they come for the distinctive shops we have to offer. It’s important there are strict checks on these developments.”

Green councillor Alison Johnstone, also a Lothians MSP, secured backing for her motion at the council which urged representations to the Scottish Government to change the Use Class Order to allow greater control against major chain stores.

She said: “We have to take a step back and look at the number of supermarkets that have been given permission.

“How many can a local economy support before we see the loss of independent shopping in Edinburgh?

“There is a big concern we’ll end up with nothing other than charity shops, coffee shops and supermarkets. We should at least scrutinise every application to prevent that.”

Councillor Jim Lowrie, the city’s planning leader, backed the motion and said changes to the law would be advantageous in overseeing other areas.

He said: “There are number of classes of premises but it’s not very well broken down.

“What the group at Bruntsfield want, which we recognise, is a method of distinguishing between the ordinary trader and a big brand retailer. At the moment, you can’t do that.”

“Another example is you can’t currently differentiate between long-term hostels for the homeless and short-term hostels for backpackers.”

He added: “John Swinney is fairly reluctant, but the feeling at the council is we should try. There is a problem with local traders being overwhelmed by the big boys.”

rory.reynolds@edinburghnews.com