Council Powers In Regard To Shops

Council Powers In Regard To Shops

The purpose of this FAQ is to clear up a few common misconceptions about what powers local Councils have over what shops there are in the Town Centre.

Basically … none.

A lot of people seem to think that one local Council or another controls which shops open.  With a couple of special exceptions, they don’t.  They have no say over it whatsoever.

Which shops open depends entirely on who the landlords choose to rent their shops to, or who chooses to invest in a building to buy it.  Anybody can buy or rent a premises and then open a shop selling whatever they like (with a couple of exceptions we will get to.)  The Council cannot say: “I’m sorry, you can’t open another shoe shop as there are already three of those.”  The Council cannot say: “I’m sorry, five kebab shops on the same road is too many.”  The Council’s opinion and preference matters not one dot and they have zero powers to intervene, channel, shape, promote or refuse any business.

The shops that are open in your town are a direct result of what the shoppers in your town are choosing to buy.  If a shop cannot make a success of itself, it will close.  If it can, it will stay open.  That is all determined by how local people are spending their money, and where.

So if you are unhappy with the shops you have in your local Town Centre, pointing the finger at the local Council is incorrect.  They have no power over it.  The responsibility is, collectively, in your hands.  If you love your local shops – use them.  Or lose them.

The Exceptions

There are three exceptions to this rule.

(1)  Licensable Activities
Some businesses need a license to operate.  Primarily, alcohol and betting.  But even with this, the licensing authority is very strictly bound by the law.  It cannot refuse an alcohol license simply because it thinks there are “too many.”  That would simply go to appeal, the Council would lose, the costs would be paid by the taxpayer and the shop would be able to sell alcohol afterwards.  There are a couple of policies which seek to address this, for instance the Cumulative Impact policy, but when tested in court these have generally failed.  So if you believe there are “too many” places that sell alcohol, if you think there should be some arbitrary number which are allowed and no more – then lobby your MP for a change in the law.  Don’t blame the Council, who do not have the power to just say “no” because they fancy saying “no.”

(2)  Planning
If a business is changing what it is used for to something quite different, it may need planning permission.  The Planning Authority grants this and it may refuse, but as with licensing it is very closely controlled by the law.  A Council cannot simply refuse planning permission without a solid legal reason to do so.  So once again, this does not give the freedom to “shape” what shops come in the way some people would like.

(3)  Council-Run Properties
It is possible for the Council to be a Landlord and buy up shops to rent to people.  If they did this then, as the Landlord, they would have the power to say who could or could not open a shop in the property they are renting.  Some Councils do this, but its not immensely common.  Personally, I’m glad for that, but if you think your local Council should be buying up shop properties and renting them as a business, tell your local Councillors so they can see there is interest in the idea.

So the next time you hear somebody say: “Damn the Council, we have rubbish shops,” point out to them that the Council have nothing to do with it.  The Council don’t set the rent, or the rates, or decide who can or cant open a business.  It’s not within their remit.  It is, however, in yours.  Through the way you choose to spend your money.  If there are a lot of kebab shops in your town that doesn’t tell you there are “too many”.  If there were “too many” some would begin to go bust.  What it tells you is that a lot of people in your town are buying kebabs.  You may not like your neighbour’s choice of cuisine, but they also may not like yours.

*Councils can, of course, close down unsanitary fast food joints and the like, if they do not operate safely.  Trading Standards can swoop in if somebody is selling counterfeit goods and the Police can crack down on illegal activities.