“Chain stores are taking over our town”, a councillor has warned, calling for more indie shops to come to Reading.

Councillor Brenda McGonigle, speaking at the council’s Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport committee (SEPT), questioned councillor Tony Page on the issue.

She said: “There is an increasing sense of unease about the number of chain stores taking over our town.

“Reading is at risk of becoming any town anywhere and losing its unique identity.

“With more and more shoppers seeking out vegetarian, vegan, eco-friendly and handmade products, is this an opportunity that should not be missed?”

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She said places like Brighton, Oxford and Bristol have continued to embrace areas and arcades specifically for small, independent traders “who provide shopping diversity, vitality and stability”.

Cllr McGonigle added that chain stores are becoming less of a draw as online shopping increases and having more independent shops could “future-proof” the retail experience in Reading.

Cllr Page, lead member for SEPT at Reading Borough Council (RBC), said chain stores are a positive feature of retail in Reading and underpin its strength as a regional shopping centre in the Thames Valley.

He said it is to Reading’s credit that many chain stores, such as Debenhams, Jessops and Clas Ohlson, have stayed in Reading while closing in other towns and cities.

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Cllr Page added: “The independents have always been relatively, and regrettably, in the shadows.

“We do not have the luxury of a ‘Lanes’ or ‘Quarters’ such as in Brighton or Bristol, where independents can co-locate and have a greater presence and impact.

“In that regard we need to be cognisant that the price of land and property is much higher than these other places.

“The council will always be looking for opportunities with investors and developers to create space for independents in new developments in the town centre.”

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There are 147 independents in the town centre, according to council estimates, 80 of which are retail.

Cllr Page highlighted weekly street food markets, art markets, the vegan market and this year’s Magic Xmas festival as events in Reading that champion independents.

He also pointed out that the council’s new local plan includes a policy preventing developers from merging individual small shop fronts into a larger shop,

Cllr Page said this will help to ensure there is space for independents.