A response to Sir Terry Leahy's recent comments has been made by 'Civic Voice'. Civic Voice is the national charity for the civic movement.

 It leads and supports civic societies as a national movement for quality of place, with people actively improving their towns, cities and villages and it promotes civic pride. It speaks up for civic societies and local communities across England.

Responding to former Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy who has described the rise of supermarkets and the closure of small shops as "part of progress", Civic Voice Chair, Paula Ridley, said:

“Our collective sense of community and wellbeing is intimately connected to the health of our high streets which play an important social role in bringing people together. The rise of supermarkets, with the infrastructure needed to sustain them and their purchasing power has helped to crowd out competition. As a result, small independent shops are increasingly missing from the high street. This is not progress, but it is change.”

“Vacancy rates of UK shops have risen from 2.8 per cent (2008) to 14.2 per cent at the end of December 2012 and are likely to continue to rise, leaving towns with only large national chains surviving.

Steve Graham, Director, Civic Voice added “A diverse range of local shops, services and other activities in our town centres is one of the most important contributors to what makes places enjoyable and people proud to live there. They become destinations, not clones, like Totnes, where 8 out of every 10 shops are independent. There are many reasons for the decline of the high street and our towns are facing difficult choices, Civic Voice currently sits on the Government’s High Street X Fund which is looking to reward innovative projects underway now across the country to rejuvenate high streets. We look forward to visiting these schemes and helping to promote the lessons learned”.

Civic Voice once again calls for the following measures to better protect our high streets (in priority order):

    transfer business rates from out-of-town development to reduce rates in town centres
    block retail development which close local shops and bring empty shops back into use
    provide free parking and more reduced parking fees
    allow planning authorities to control the mix of shops
    free up councils to offer rate relief
    introduce community right to protect valued local shops and services
    tackle landlords who leave property vacant.

More about Civic Voice can bre found at: http://www.civicvoice.org.uk including how to join Civic Voice (£10 individuals) and also contact details for local civic societies.