The new independent shops coming to Woodley are very much the kinds of things many have been hoping for for years.

‘Corporates out, indies in’, as Hicks Baker’s Fiona Brownfoot puts it. But last month’s change to allow retail units to be converted to residential under Permitted Development Rights could surely threaten small towns which had just had a boost from the trend of shopping locally.

So it was interesting to notice the aspect of Reading Borough Council’s decision to seek an Article 4 Direction which covers local centres.

All over town the council has sought to protect small parades of shops. This has to be a positive move. No end of corner shops and pubs have disappeared from communities but there are still small bustling areas of activity at local retail centres which mean people will gather and the retailers can thrive off one another.

But if a parade of 10 shops loses three or four to residential, then the others will likely fade away as footfall drops. If you have ever driven through the South Oxfordshire village of Nettlebed, you will see a lovely high street with a church, a pub and a club.

But the everyday shops have all but vanished, leaving a soulless street where the only movement is people driving through.

Yet the desire to gather is still there. Nettlebed Creamery runs a partially-covered outdoor coffee shop, where, even on weekdays, locals, including many dogwalkers, get together. It seems to have replaced the High Street as a casual meeting place.

So while the arguments over converting offices to homes rages on, Reading’s aim of protecting small centres is to be welcomed.

Wokingham Borough Council would do well to consider a similar move to keep Woodley thriving.

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