HC Deb 15 March 1995 vol 256 cc883-5
1. Mr. Jim Cunningham

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when the precise wording of the new guidance for planning powers relating to out-of-town shopping developments will be published.

5. Mr. Dowd

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when the wording of the new guidance for planning powers relating to out-of-town shopping developments will be published.

11. Mr. Bayley

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when the precise wording of the new guidance for planning powers relating to out-of-town shopping developments will be published.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. John Gummer)

I hope to publish a draft of revised guidance on town centres and retailing for consultation before the summer recess.

Mr. Cunningham

Is the Secretary of State aware of the concern among small shopkeepers serving my constituency about the possible effects of out-of-town shopping?

Mr. Gummer

It is precisely for that and other reasons that I have brought in the planning guidance that has sought to reinvigorate our city and town centres and to increase the amount of mixed use, so that people can live, work, worship, shop and do many other things together in city centres, instead of relying on the motor car.

Mr. Dowd

Will the Secretary of State confirm that, although the issue tends to concentrate on green-field sites outside relatively provincial towns, inner-urban areas whose developments will be on brown-field sites close to traditional ribbon high streets also present an issue? Will the guidance have anything to say about its impact?

Mr. Gummer

Of course it will be necessary to see that new development enhances the town centre, especially the shopping centre. Each case is different. Most of us, looking at Lewisham, would say that a number of serious development mistakes were made in the past. One has to try to provide the best answers within the framework that we shall lay down.

Mr. Bayley

Does the Minister accept that irreparable and irreversible damage has been done to many town centres by out-of-town developments, and that small businesses in constituencies such as mine have suffered at the expense of large businesses, which have been allowed to develop out of town? Does that not show that the unrestricted free market principles behind out-of-town developments have damaged many small, long-established businesses?

Mr. Gummer

That is a very odd question. The fact is that the centres of our cities have been run down, largely by appalling planning decisions taken by local Labour councils. We know who the people who have destroyed our cities are: Labour councillors who hate small businesses and who, when they controlled the business rates, pushed them up so that more and more small businesses were driven to the wall. It is to repair that damage that I am spending a great deal of public money to redevelop our city centres for the benefit of all our people.

Sir Patrick Cormack

I thank my right hon. Friend for what he has done so far, but does he accept that there have been two sad developments in recent years, and not just in Labour areas? One has been the decline of the small specialist shop; the other has been the sucking of life out of the centres of many towns and cities. It is therefore important to try to redress the balance.

Mr. Gummer

I think that the old saying, "Don't use it, lose it," is sensible in respect of shopping. The out-of-town shopping centre has provided an important tradition which many people want. It is a question of striking a balance. It is universally true that, in the city centres that the Labour party has controlled, decline and degradation have been the results of its period of office. Only now are we beginning, with taxpayers' money, to rejuvenate our city centres as I have described.

Mr. Fabricant

Is my right hon. Friend aware that traders in the centre of Lichfield are heartened by today's news that retail sales are at their highest for more than 12 months? Is he further aware that retail sales will be enhanced by the fact that unemployment is the lowest it has been in three years?

Mr. Gummer

I am sure that the increasingly good economic news will be welcomed by those who want to expand their businesses. I want those businesses to expand in the centres of our cities and market towns, so that we can return to the vibrant communities which are so much a mark of Conservative communities and so much abhorred by the Labour party.

Mr. Merchant

Will my right hon. Friend consider in particular the problems caused by traffic and parking where so-called out-of-town development occurs on brown-field sites of the sort mentioned by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dowd)? His constituents and mine are affected by a major development at Bell green, Lewisham that poses the danger of having such an impact. I compliment the hon. Member for Lewisham, West on the assiduity with which he has pursued the concerns of his constituents and mine. Wider issues are at stake, and perhaps my right hon. Friend will examine them.

Mr. Gummer

I cannot comment on the particular example that my hon. Friend mentioned, but it is essential to ensure that proper provision for cars and parking is made in city centre developments. I want people to be able to choose whether to use a car to shop.

Mr. Vaz

Every time the Secretary of State speaks on this issue in the House, he leaves Government policy in utter confusion. Will the right hon. Gentleman simply tell the House whether he is in favour of out-of-town developments or against them? If he is in favour, how will he halt the decline of our town and city centres? If he is against, how will he ensure proper investment in town centre management? Is this just another two-faced policy from a two-faced Government?

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman has been lauded in the newspapers as a reasonable and polite person, but he is being neither on this occasion. He knows perfectly well that he can like both apples and pears but need not say that he dislikes either of them. Out-of-town shopping development has been necessary and needed, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman is saying to his constituents that they may not shop at a superstore. We need to get the balance right. It has moved too much to the out-of-town shopping centre, and I want to move it back to the city centre. Most people, but not the hon. Gentleman, view that as a balanced and sensible policy. The trouble with Labour is that it goes to extremes on everything—even shopping.