HC Deb 19 October 1994 vol 248 cc263-4
4. Mrs. Lait

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how he intends to make the most of the planning opportunities provided by continued development of the retail industry.

Mr. Gummer

By encouraging retailers to develop forms of retailing which can, where possible, locate in places, such as town centres, where everyone can benefit from the competition and choice that they bring.

Mrs. Lait

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Boots Properties is currently finalising plans for exactly the kind of town-centre shopping development that he has recommended? Does he agree that such town-centre shopping provides access for all—both those with and those without cars—and also has benefits in terms of car emissions? Will he give some further information about the timing and content of the planning guidance that he has said that he intends to publish?

Mr. Gummer

It would be wrong for me to comment on the specific example given by my hon. Friend, because it might be the subject of a review by the Department and by me. I certainly believe, however, that encouraging larger stores to play their part in the revivification of town centres will be good for everyone. It will provide opportunities for those without access to motor cars. That will be a necessary part of any concept of sustainable development in the future.

I hope to extend the information on the current planning guidance pretty soon.

Mr. Stevenson

Does the Secretary of State accept that traditional town and city-centre markets are an important part of the retail industry? Does he recognise that, in their dash for deregulation, the Government propose to remove local-authority market franchise rights? That will cause severe damage in areas such as my constituency in Stoke-on-Trent. Will the Secretary of State instigate an urgent review on this piece of Government dogma before the damage is done to our inner cities and town centres?

Mr. Gummer

I have looked at this matter carefully because not only the hon. Gentleman but my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) and others have raised the issue with me. I hope to be able to make an announcement soon.

Mr. David Nicholson

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the necessary, and probably overdue, issue of planning guidance that protects our town and city centres against out-of-town developments. That is desirable. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the guidance is sensitive enough to enable councillors to object to undesirable urban developments such as the proposed removal in Taunton of the facilities offered by the County hotel and their replacement by retailing facilities?

Mr. Gummer

I shall not discuss the particular aspect raised by my hon. Friend, but he is right that we are talking about guidance. It does not apply in any specific case. There may be good reasons for deciding not to agree to a development. Not long ago, I turned down, on appeal, a development in the centre of Ludlow. I believe that there are cases when the proposed development is unacceptable either for design or for other reasons. We must then take appropriate measures. Generally, most people in Britain would like to see a further enhancement of our city and town centres rather than development outside. They do not object to much that has been built outside because it provides services that people want and has changed the way retailing takes place. However, they do not want it to be overdone.

Mr. Pike

We welcome the Government's change to supporting our town centres and shopping areas within those centres. However, will the Secretary of State recognise that the change in retailing increasingly means that small corner shops are closing in outer areas of town? Will he realise that people who depend on those shops need public transport? It is essential that we have good public transport to our town centres and retail shopping areas. It is also essential that the needs of the disabled are protected in those new shopping areas because it is increasingly difficult for many disabled people to get round the new type of shops.

Mr. Gummer

I doubt whether it is increasingly difficult for disabled people. Many of the newer shops provide better facilities for the disabled and I am impressed by some of the changes that have taken place in some of the large retail outlets recently.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that nearly 50 per cent. of the budget of the Department of Transport is spent on public transport when it accounts for only 10 per cent. of journeys.

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