SUBURBAN shopping strips could be pushed closer to extinction under changes to planning laws designed to increase competition among shops.The Planning Minister, Tony Kelly, said the laws would prevent the likes of Coles and Woolworths using planning laws to stymie competition within individual suburbs.The planned changes to the State Environmental Planning Policy will stipulate that the loss of trade for an existing business is not ”normally” a relevant planning consideration. It will also override council limits on the number of particular types of stores in a given area.While property developers welcomed the changes, smaller retailers said deregulation could crowd out smaller players.Mark Crutcher, from IGA NSW, welcomed the removal of barriers to competition, but was concerned about ”unintended consequences” leading to major chains increasing market share.He said the inclusion of a competition test could ensure this did not happen.The announcement follows the approval last week of the US retailer Costco’s $60 million warehouse in Auburn, and should make it easier for similar stores to expand in NSW.Councils are concerned the changes will lead to new retail development away from commercial centres.The president of the Local Government Association, Genia McCaffery, said it was not consulted on the changes, which she said would undermine councils’ strategic planning objectives to keep retail areas focused on commercial centres with public transport access.Her concerns were echoed by Stephen Albin, from the Urban Development Institute of Australia, who said: “It is important that this policy is applied in a way that is complementary to existing and planned centres, not one that promotes out-of-centre activity.”The opposition planning spokesman, Brad Hazzard, welcomed increased competition but said ”the devil’s still in the detail which is yet to be released”.Communities which might be expected to welcome lower prices have often fought against the opening of supermarkets, concerned about the detrimental effect on local shops. The City of Sydney recently granted approval for Woolworths to open a store in Erskineville despite strong objections by residents, while residents in Mullumbimby have also fought a long battle against a new supermarket.The Shopping Centre Council of Australia, which represents Westfield, Mirvac, Lend Lease and other big retailers, welcomed the changes. ”For too long shopping centre owners have been limited in where they can develop,” its spokesman, Milton Cockburn, said.The developer lobby group Urban Taskforce, which pushed for the reforms, said they did not go far enough to promote competition. Large retailers wishing to open outside town centres could still be blocked purely on the grounds they would siphon trade from existing shops.