The Government's dismay over the phenomenal growth of out-of-town shopping centres is not shared by youngsters who shop and socialise there.
John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, moved last week to stem the tide of sprawling malls, superstores and their vast car parking areas increasingly cluttering the boundaries of large conurbations. Under his proposals planning priority will be given to town-centre development while out-of-town schemes would not get planning permission if they harmed the vitality of nearby town centres.
Research by Sheffield University in a city many fear is being ruined by the Meadowhall shopping complex, reveals that 60 per cent of children visit out-of-town malls at least once a month.
Just 5 per cent of the 11-14-yea- olds in the survey said they would take their own children to the town centre alone, while 40 per cent predicted they would only take them to malls.
Some of the children, from two schools in Penistone and Chesterfield, said they felt threatened by the presence of "yobbos" in town centres although they liked burger bars, computer shops and CD shops. Out-of-town shopping centres were perceived as clean and safe with a good selection of shops. There were complaints however that they could be "too busy".
The study, carried out by Sheffield's department of landscape and geography, is the forerunner of a larger nationwide project which aims to discover children's attitudes towards their town centres.
The work will uncover the use that children make of town centres; what activities they take part in; how much money they spend and their general attitudes towards shopping and leisure.
The work is funded by the Economic and Social Research Centre and will contribute to the debate over the perceived decline of many towns and cities and the relationship of this decline to out-of-town shopping.