HC Deb 27 February 1996 vol 272 cc706-7
4. Mr. Riddick

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement about the Government's measures to revitalise town and village centres. [15490]

The Minister for Construction, Planning and Energy Efficiency (Mr. Robert B. Jones)

Through our planning policies, we provide a framework to maintain and increase their vitality and, through specific measures such as the urban design campaign, city challenge and our proposed rate relief scheme for village shops, support local initiatives that benefit the whole community.

Mr. Riddick

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Is he aware that there is concern among retailers in the towns and villages of my constituency—for example, Holmfirth, Meltham and Slaithwaite—about the difficult trading conditions that they face, which will make it difficult for some of them to survive? I heard only this morning that Lloyds bank plans to close its branch in Marsden. Does he agree that although the Government are not able to force people not to shop elsewhere—in supermarkets, for example—it is important that they should take steps to ensure the continuing vitality of towns and villages in constituencies such as mine?

Mr. Jones

When judging planning applications for new retail development, we shall ensure that local authorities take into account the impact of any new development on such communities and follow our guidance in terms of a hierarchy of suitable sites. At the end of the day, of course, there is much that traders and the communities in which they live can do to patronise these shops and to ensure that local authorities have a properly thought-out strategy for each town, village and city centre.

Mr. Vaz

The truth is that the Government have done their best to destroy town, city and village centres. May I remind the House that it was this Government and these Ministers who allowed hundreds of out-of-town shopping centres to be built all over the country, and to tear the heart out of our towns and villages? When will the Government be prepared to stop using planning policy to destroy city and town centres and use it productively to do what the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) just asked—promote and protect town and village centres?

Mr. Jones

If the hon. Gentleman took a close interest in such matters, he would know that that is precisely how we use the planning system. Nothing has done more to destroy city centres over the years than Labour councils' imposition of massive taxes, which has caused many businesses to move out.

Mr. Mans

Does my hon. Friend agree that there are two ways in which not to revitalise villages and towns? One is to introduce car parking charges, and the other is to insist that large housing developments take place on the edges of villages and towns, in green belts. Those are both policies of Labour-controlled councils in Lancashire.

Mr. Jones

My hon. Friend has hit two nails firmly on the head. First, car parking facilities for shoppers are a key way to ensure the vitality of town centres. Secondly, as my hon. Friend says, the more housing there is in town and village centres, the less pressure there is on the green belt and the more people there are in the towns to patronise shops.