HC Deb 19 April 1995 vol 258 cc197-8
5. Mr. Heppell

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement as to when he will publish his review of planning policy guidance concerning out-of-town developments. [17909]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir Paul Beresford)

Before the summer recess.

Mr. Heppell

How does the Minister plan to convince local authorities and commercial enterprises that the Government are serious about supporting town and city centres when planning guidance still lacks clarity? Does he agree that any out-of-town development is bound to have a serious effect on town and city centres?

Sir Paul Beresford

I would not absolutely agree with the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question, when he said that out-of-town development causes destruction to town and city centres. There is cross-party and local government support for the changes and for PPG6, which shows that local government recognises the positiveness of that report.

Mr. Quentin Davies

Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be an enormous tragedy if we followed the pattern of so many American cities, where all economic development has shifted out to new shopping malls in the suburbs and city centres have become an economic vacuum? Does he agree that imaginative planning policies can play an important role in preventing such development from taking place?

Sir Paul Beresford

I would certainly agree with that. Indeed, there is probably cross-party support on all the points that my hon. Friend has just made.

Mr. Matthew Taylor

Does the Minister accept that, apart from out-of-town centres which have already been built, many planning permissions for out-of-town developments are still outstanding and people are concerned that the stable door is being shut well after the horse has bolted? Will the Department review what it can do to help -town centres regenerate and build investment through local authorities and others to push back the tide in favour of town centres, particularly in communities where town centres are already well down the path of decline?

Sir Paul Beresford

First, given the current number of outstanding planning permissions, the hon. Gentleman's question conveys a sense of doom rather than reality. The reality is very different. Secondly, not only local authorities and planning authorities are involved; the private sector, whose response towards city centres has been very positive so far, is also involved.

Mr. Vaz

Why does the Minister not have the courage to admit that current planning policy is in a state of complete confusion? No sooner is planning guidance issued than it is ridiculed, criticised, withdrawn and subjected to a fundamental review. Will he assure the House that, once that review is completed, the Government will for the first time have a coherent and clear policy on out-of-town development rather than the current mess?

Sir Paul Beresford

If the hon. Gentleman cares to look at PPG6 and the revision as it comes forward, he will recognise that the whole basis of his question is wrong.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

While welcoming PPG6 and tentative evidence reported in the Estates Gazette last week that relative values and rents in well managed town centres are rising compared with those in out-of-town shopping centres, will my hon. Friend look closely at an application to extend the Merry Hill centre, which would significantly affect surrounding towns such as Kidderminster, Bromsgrove and Worcester?

Sir Paul Beresford

I am sure that my hon. Friend would not want me to comment directly on a particular issue, but his point has been noted.