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Spend, spend, spend – locally

March 2, 2010

Most people would assume it’s the local economy that benefits most from a vibrant town centre, but a case could be made for the environment being the real winner. 

Aesthetics are an important consideration.  Just as the sleek all-black design of SolarUK’s solar panels in no way harms the appearance of a building, a high street with an array of independent shops looks much more pleasing than an anodyne ‘clone’ zone lined with the plastic fascia of big-name brands, or a stretch with only large chain stores which leaves the shopping street deserted and unfriendly when night falls.

A thriving town centre is better culturally (variety is the spice of life) and socially (locally available services such as post offices bind communities together), but it’s the environment which concerns us here.  And if there are local retail and small enterprise jobs to be had, there’s less commuting, with its inevitable congestion and pollution, to be done.  By buying and consuming as locally as possible, we can keep lorry journeys shorter and less carbon-emitting.

Also, without a healthy town centre to inspire residents to defend with gusto, large out-of-town supermarkets will move in (they can be the cause, as well as result, of the decline of an otherwise prosperous town too).   The company’s stranglehold over food producers tends to lead to the industrialisation of our eating culture and agriculture.

The carbon footprint of the supermarket buildings themselves has come under the spotlight.  A Sheffield Hallam University study (quoted by, which perhaps admittedly is not going to find much in the big outlets’ favour) found that large superstores are the most energy inefficient buildings in the retail sector: it would take more than 60 corner shops or greengrocers to match the CO2 emissions from one average-sized superstore.

In the supermarket’s defence, there are steps being taken to improve energy efficiency through microgeneration.  Last year Tesco opened a new Manchester store with a combined heat and power plant providing on-site generated electricity.

The Sustainable Communities Act, which sprang to life as a result of a grass-roots movement pushing sustainability locally, provides a tool for supporting a town centre.   The Act obliges your local authority – so long as it chooses to use the Act as intended – to get ideas and agreement from members of the community before making proposals to central government.

It’s when people feel they have a real say in their area’s future that positive things start happening: a popular small shop is saved, or a renewable energy scheme gets off the ground.


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