HC Deb 08 February 2000 vol 344 cc112-3
13. Mr. Christopher Leslie (Shipley)

If he will make a statement on Government support for the location of new retail outlets in existing town centres. [107319]

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Mr. Nick Raynsford)

Our policy is set out in planning policy guidance note 6, entitled, "Town Centres and Retail Developments". We have strengthened the guidance by requiring applicants for out-of-town centres to demonstrate that there is a need for the store and by making it clear that extensions to existing out-of-town developments are subject to a sequential test.

Mr. Leslie

I welcome the strong stance taken by the Government. Is my hon. Friend aware that retail shopkeepers in the town of Bingley in my constituency were threatened by an out-of-town shopping proposal, which the local council was able to stand firm against and reject thanks to the strong guidance given by the Government? Will he send a strong message to those who have profited from the plundering of town centres, including certain Conservative Members, that the Government will stand firm in fighting for the viability of our town centres?

Mr. Raynsford

I strongly endorse my hon. Friend's comments and simply add that there was an explosion of out-of-town shopping under the Conservatives. No fewer than 7.7 million sq m of out-of-town shopping centres and retail parks were built between 1979 and 1997. That involved serious damage to many existing town centres. We are determined to concentrate development in existing centres and delighted that the bulk of retailers—including, I believe, Asda Wal-Mart—have recognised that their future developments should be located primarily in town centres.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

If that is indeed Government policy, will the Minister undertake to talk to his colleagues in the Treasury with responsibility for the district valuers office and see whether the uniform business rate can be adjusted so that out-of-town supermarkets have a more sensible rate and in-town shops can compete with them?

Mr. Raynsford

The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point about the need to achieve a level playing field wherever possible. My evidence to the Select Committee stressed the Government's objective of ensuring that there is—as far as possible—a level playing field, not perverse incentives that make it easier to develop in unsustainable locations. I cannot give the specific commitment that he seeks because he appears to want an increased rate in certain areas. I am not sure that that would be an appropriate solution, but I can assure him of the Government's commitment to the principle of achieving a more level playing field.