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Chain stores 'sucking the identity' out of our towns, says new study

By This is Cornwall  |  Posted: September 15, 2010

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A new study into diversity on the high street has placed three Westcountry locations in the top ten of the worst Clone Towns.

Think-tank the New Economics Foundation (NEF) claims large chain stores are sucking the identity from an increasing number of towns and leaving high streets vulnerable to economic shocks.

They say that chain stores have proven to be "fair weather friends" in the recession, and do not support a community's economy in the same way that local retailers do.

Exeter, which occupied the top Clone Town spot in 2005, has lost its place to Cambridge, where only nine varieties of shop were found.

In the 2009 study, the results of which are released today, Exeter came joint second with Reading.

Cornwall's St Austell came eighth, with Penzance tenth.

It is not all bad news though, with three Westcountry towns featuring at the other end of the scale in the Home Town top ten.

Torrington in North Devon came fourth, with a score of 85.6 for identity and diversity, Crediton came fifth and Newlyn, Cornwall, ninth.

In their study, Reimagining The High Street, the NEF say residents need to seek out independents and locally sourced products. They also believe central government should give local authorities powers to offer discretionary business rate relief for new and established independent enterprises.

Andrew Simms, policy director at NEF, said: "Locally rooted, independent retailers relate differently to the communities they serve.

"In economic terms, more of the money spent in them is liable to stay and re-circulate in the local area. They are more likely to support other local businesses too, rather than procuring the goods and services they need from other remote national and international suppliers.

"In difficult times, locally rooted stores are also more likely to go to greater lengths to remain open, doing whatever they can to keep trading."

The survey results reveal that 41 per cent of UK towns are Clone Towns and a further 23 per cent are on the verge of becoming one.

It discusses the struggle faced by independent retailers in Crediton, where a giant Tesco superstore opened at the end of 2009.

Independent retailers in the town, which scored well on the scale thanks to there being 19 different types of outlet on the high street, say it is now "noticeably quieter".

Richard Adams, town councillor and third-generation shop owner, said of Tesco: "It'll offer shoppers a lot of their shopping under one roof. We will have to fight harder to attract custom".

Penzance, the tenth highest-scoring Clone Town of the survey, won praise in the report for its loyalty card scheme for local shops, launched in January 2009.

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    Jane, Kirkcudbright (ex Par)  |  September 18 2010, 9:26PM

    St Austell has been busy aspiring to be a clone town so no doubt will be disappointed not to be higher up the list. When I saw a list of the shops planned for White River Place I wrote and expressed my despair that they were identical to those found in most towns. The reply I got said that many were new to Cornwall and they were excited to have them, which just about sums it up really. The only area with character and individuality is the old market place. The rest of the town has been a disaster since the 70's.

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    Monica Gray, Cambridge  |  September 16 2010, 6:21PM

    This is true of most towns. The majority of Cambridge shops are exactly the same as any other town. The only thing that distinguishes Cambridge from other towns are the Colleges. Have always thought Penzance was an attractive town with lots of different shops. We enjoy shopping there.

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    Houfous, Cornwall  |  September 15 2010, 3:54PM

    They call it a study but nothing but unsupported assertions and opinions are given. It would be useful to see whether the opinions were formed before or after the 'study'.

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    youngcornwall, uk  |  September 15 2010, 3:13PM

    And no one has mentioned the variation in prices from one Tesco store to another Tesco store throughout the country, I can tell you this much, those that are using the two PZ stores are not having the best of deals.

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    David, St Austell  |  September 15 2010, 2:38PM

    Sorry PZlad but I was always told that if someone said they don't have time for something it meant they did not want to do it. With all the time saving gadgets people must have they have never had so much spare time. It's what they do with it that counts. Nobody went short just because the shops were not open on a Sunday. Supermarkets may be convenient and cheap but they are more of a curse than a blessing.

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    PZlad, PZ  |  September 15 2010, 2:21PM

    Peoples lives have changed. People have to work two or three jobs just to get a mortgage. They just don¿t have the time and money to shop in the traditional way.

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    David, St Austell  |  September 15 2010, 1:41PM

    It's too late now but perhaps councils can now see that giving planning permission to any supermarket that shows its wallet was wrong. Every town and city in the country is now blighted by them. None of their profits benefit the local economy, all hidden in tax saving accounts offshore and they are the direct cause of local businesses going bust. St Austell used to have a fishonger and many butchers. Not any more thanks to Tesco ASDA etc.

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    eek, penzance  |  September 15 2010, 12:59PM

    Penzance won praise for loyalty scheme ? Why ? Like most of these schemes it is already hardly used ! Mostly because of the lack of continuity & conditions in the offers available , typical is 5% off on Wednesdays not close to full moon.