Month: January 2013

It is a curious thing, but the demise of HMV and chain stores of its genre may just be the saving of many high streets. Over four decades, the character of far too many high streets has been eroded by identikit chain shops and cavernous shopping centres lined with yet more chain shops. But many of these chains are now disappearing from the high street. Many have collapsed. Comet, HMV, Jessops, Clinton Cards and Woolworths – the list of high street failures is growing long. In 2012, around 54 retailers went, closing almost 4,000 stores and ending the jobs of 8,000 employees. Other retailers have found high streets too cramped and awkward to access. They moved out of town and then moved online. There are now more than 40,000 empty high street shops and the number of shoppers is declining. Charity and pop up shops sometimes fill the gaps, more often premises are left vacant. Its grim news. The recession has hastened the decline of our high streets but it is not the main force driving change. The retail industry has been forecasting the end of the high street for many years. When, several years ago, I challenged a British…

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I was out strolling in the woods this morning when BBC Radio Shropshire rang asking to speak about the hedgerow row. I began to talk to Jim Hawkins not even knowing that the  application had been withdrawn, Of course, I was elated to hear the news! You can hear the interview in iPlayer at 2:22 minutes (until 23 January). http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p012y7l9 It is expected that the landowner will be back with more considered and smaller applications in the future. However, his withdrawal of the bid to grub out up to seven miles of hedgerow sends a message to landowners and farmers across the country that large-scale speculative applications will not meet with success. Congratulations to Heather Kidd in Chirbury and the hundreds of people that battled to get the application withdrawn.

Rutland is a small and beautiful county caught up in a big and ugly row. Council leaders and officers have been facing vocal and persistent opposition from three independent councillors who style themselves the Rutland Anti-Corruption Group. The council has had enough and has turned to its lawyers. It is the task of lawyers to find ways of protecting the interests of its clients and Rutland’s legal advisers have come up with ways of silencing the council’s critics. Their suggested remedies have scary implications for democracy. The lawyers’ first suggestion is that the council sues the Rutland Three for libel. No one knew that this could be done – in fact the Law Lords ruled in 1992 that a council cannot sue for libel. What the council’s lawyers are arguing is that the Localism Act conferred a general duty of competence councils. Under this a council can do anything that is legal. Suing someone is legal; ergo a council can now sue. This is an adventurous interpretation of the duty of competence – parliamentarians had intended it to allow local authorities to act commercially. Rutland’s lawyers warn this approach is untested and likely to attract “media interest beyond the local…

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Struggling publicans will soon be able to appeal to independent adjudicator Vince Cable, Lib Dem Business Secretary announced yesterday. I’ll raise a glass to that! Pubs are at the heart of British life. They are infinitely varied, unlike the monotonous American style cafés that are invading our cities and even our small towns. Sitting in a Starbucks or Costa, you could be anywhere in the world. That’s not the case with the great British pub. Each bar is a unique experience. Landlords, landladies and managers up and down the land (mostly) serve beer to perfection. They dish out excellent food. They charm and entertain their customers, politely showing them door when they have outstayed their welcome. Pubs are at the heart of communities, especially in our villages where they are often the only service remaining. The humble pub sign was even voted the number one icon of England in a 2008 poll conducted by the Campaign to Protect Rural England. But this idyllic view of the great British pub gets further from reality with every year that passes. Too many pubs are struggling, and eighteen a week are closing. There are a whole host of reasons why pubs are in…

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Update: Application withdrawn on 17 January 2013 There are almost unprecedented plans to plough out 7 miles of hedgerow near Chirbury. If proposals like this are nodded through, large areas of Shropshire could soon become barren wastelands, denuded of beauty and biodiversity. Deadline: 17 January 2013. You can object here: planningpa.shropshire.gov.uk/online-applications. Just type 12/05237/HRM into the search box to bring up the application. Location of Marrington Farm Shropshire is a county that greatly benefits from the character and richness of its landscape. Our farmed landscape is important not only to the agricultural industry. It is a major tourist attraction and contributes to the quality of life of the county’s residents. Our fields, hedges and woods are a haven for wildlife and vital reservoir of biodiversity. Liberal Democrat councillor Heather Kidd at the hedgerows Hedgerows are a critical component of this landscape. They are visually attractive. They provide wildlife havens and corridors. They are an integral part of the county’s history and heritage. Over decades hedgerows have been grubbed out, trashing the attractiveness of the landscape. Their removal has too often eliminated the intimate connection between landscapes and history, ploughed out biodiversity, and impoverished the quality of soil. Despite government support…

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