§ 11. Mr. Ian Taylor
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what proportion of planning applications for new supermarkets are for in-town sites.
§ Mr. Taylor
My right hon. Friend probably holds some information in some form. Does he recognise that my normally tranquil and serene constituency of Esher is at present up in arms about the villains from Tesco and Sainsbury, who are attempting to put superstores on the edges of communities in my constituency in Thames Ditton and Long Ditton? They would not be out-of-town shopping centres, but shopping centres on the edge of communities which would rip the hearts out of those communities. He has received thousands of letters opposing those developments; will he consider carefully the damage that superstores cause to communities in semi-urban areas?
§ Mr. Gummer
My hon. Friend would not want me to comment specifically about decisions which I may have to take from a quasi-judicial position, but, in general terms, my view is that we need to take those decisions in the light of the viability of the shopping centres in high streets of small towns and large towns and also in some less urban areas. That is the purpose of PPG 6—the planning guidance on town centres and retail development—and the joint planning guidance on transport—PPG 13—with the Secretary of State for Transport. Putting the two together, 881 my hon. Friend should have confidence that we are determined to protect the viability and life of our traditional high-street shopping centres.
§ Mr. Hardy
While I do not disagree with the Secretary of State, will he look into the question recently drawn to my notice of applications for developments that are described as warehouses or buildings for leisure pursuits, when the real intention is to develop retail outlets of the sort that he apparently deplores?
§ Mr. Gummer
I am determined to ensure that the same planning rules shall be laid upon all comparable developments, and merely calling them something different will not exclude the full planning procedures. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there are some who seek to do that; I will seek to make sure that they fail.
§ Mr. Brandreth
Is my right hon. Friend aware how welcome his recent proposals on out-of-town shopping centres have been in constituencies such as mine, where thriving inner-city, city-centre shopping is of paramount importance to the economy and quality of life of the community? Is he aware that the balance that he is introducing in his proposals is widely welcomed in Chester?
§ Mr. Gummer
It is important not only to get the balance corrected, but to raise the standard of the design of the shops when they come back into city centres and the centres of our small towns. That is why I turned down a particular proposal in Ludlow, where the design was not up to the quality of the town centre it sought to enhance.
§ Mr. Vaz
May I congratulate the Secretary of State for finally acknowledging that the Labour party policy on out-of-town developments, on which we have been campaigning for years, is the right one? Will he now apologise to the councils that have had their decisions overturned and the developers that now face hundreds of extant planning permissions which, on current completion times, will take years to finish? How does he propose to compensate local communities that have had their green belts ruined, and the local authorities that have seen the destruction of their town centres because of the myopic policies of this Government?
§ Mr. Gummer
It is very often the local Labour council that has given the planning permission. That was a pretty rich comment, even for the Labour party. It would be nice if the hon. Gentleman at least could say that after a perfectly reasonable period where the retail revolution was allowed to continue, providing a considerable number of jobs and choices for the people of Britain, we are now saying that the balance should be reverted—in a different direction. That is perfectly reasonable. We are not in any sense resiling from the view that there ought to be a mix, but we need vibrant city centres. We are encouraging that, not only through the planning process, but through the enormous sums of money that we are putting into our city centres in such excellent policies as city challenge and similar ones which were opposed virulently by the Opposition.