Small traders fear being squeezed out by council's retail plans

WATFORD COUNCIL is cosying up to big business at the expense of small traders, say environmentalists, who claim the future of local shops is under threat.

The accusation comes after amendments to a draft chapter of the town's planning blueprint were made, setting out a vision for retail provision in the town for the next ten years.

Watford Green Party says it is concerned at the amount of input made by Capital Shopping Centres, which runs The Harlequin shopping centre.

A number of objections were received by the corporation, considered by members of the council's executive board, and reflected in the amended document.

Watford Green Party spokesman Steve Rackett said he was worried about the "very close relationship between Capital Shopping Centres and the local authority".

He said: "Our concern is the council is quite willing to change its policy to suit the big shops but small local retailers are being ignored.

"Local retailers are going out of business while The Harlequin gets bigger and bigger."

His fears were echoed at an executive board meeting on Tuesday, January 8, when independent councillor Ian Brown questioned officers about the amount of input small traders had in drawing up the chapter of Watford's District Plan.

Planning strategy manager Renato Messere denied local shopkeepers had been had been left out.

He said: "The District Plan process has been going on for the past two to three years and over that time we have taken on board comments from local businesses and put together a strategy designed to protect isolated shops and shopping parades."

Mr Rackett argued the current consultation system was biased in favour of large companies who could afford to employ people to formulate a response to local planning policy. The council was "doing nothing" to help struggling small businesses, he said.

He called for the introduction of a grant scheme to support small traders.

He said: "We see a lot of money spent on the high street but we need to spend some money doing up our local shops."