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Portas must suggest radical solution in her town centre review

Research from the largest independent network of home finders in the UK reveals that 61% of people hanker after locally owned stores and services in preference to high street brands, while a NEF report asserts that 41% of the UK’s towns are clone towns, where over half of all shops are part of a chain.*

Jonathan Haward, chairman of County Homesearch comments: “As we have seen, people like diversity rather than the cloned towns of today. But Mary Portas will have to recommend radical changes to the tax system to encourage the smaller retailers to set up shop. Business rates need to be adjusted to encourage the small retailers and those that are not immediately profitable pay less or no tax.”

County Homesearch’s survey of over 1,000 consumers indicates that independent food shops, particularly delis, organic butchers and patisseries, are seen as more indicative of a desirable town than chain supermarkets, with certain national brands, such as Asda and Tesco, specifically seen as devaluing an areaHowever, 63% of the shops that went out of business in 2009 were independent,** indicating that the more affordable, better-known option often wins out in reality.

When assessing the desirability of a town, the survey also shows that a Good Pub Guide recommended inn or a Michelin star restaurant is more sought after than a high street chain bar or restaurant such as Pizza Express.

Jonathan Haward, chairman of County Homesearch adds: “The response reveals that people really value access to locally owned and run organisations that offer individuality and see the presence of such services as an indicator of a desirable town. This is indicative of a changing attitude to prominent high street brands in Britain, which experienced a surge in popularity in the first half of the decade.

“Unfortunately, this new-found preference for independent services is at odds with the actual picture on the high street, which research has shown to be increasingly chain dominated, creating clone towns across the country. While many prefer the high street to offer choice, it seems they still appreciate access to a supermarket for convenience and economy and these companies will always have a significant role to play. However, people need to support their local independents if they are to fight off the competition from the bigger players, particularly in a downturn.”
The ubiquitous Pizza Express was seen as detracting from the appeal of a town (29%) more than it added to it (26%).

For food shopping, the distinctly British and more upmarket brands of Marks & Spencer and Waitrose gained the highest approval (68% and 66% respectively). International brand Tesco, and Wal-Mart owned Asda were deemed as detracting from a town’s appeal.

An upmarket home ware store was the highest indicator of a desirable town, with a huge 62% of people selecting this option. An independent bookstore and an antique dealer were both seen as strong signs of desirability, being selected by 46% and 44% respectively. An independent estate agent was deemed slightly more indicative of an attractive town than a chain estate agent.

Food shops – An independent deli (58%) was seen as almost three times as likely to indicate a desirable town than a chain supermarket (21%). Also more sought after than the chain supermarket was an organic butcher, independent patisserie, local farm shop, organic grocer, and independent wine merchant.

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