High Streets (Designation, Review and Improvement Plan) Bill

– in the House of Commons am 11:00 am ar 26 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.

Third Reading

Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Ceidwadwyr, Stoke-on-Trent South 11:03, 26 Ebrill 2024

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I am delighted to be able to express thanks to colleagues from across the House for their support for this important Bill. I am grateful to the Minister and his officials for their highly constructive engagement at every stage. It has been enormously helpful to draw on the Department’s formidable professionalism and expertise. I thank the Whips Office, and particularly the Comptroller of His Majesty’s Household, my hon. Friend Rebecca Harris, for all her support. I thank the House staff in the Public Bill Office for their support. I also thank the many organisations and individuals who have helped to inform this Bill through conversations I have had with them and reports I have read over many years. I have managed to bring them together thanks to the private Member’s Bill ballot.

I am a passionate believer in local government. My experience at Stoke-on-Trent City Council as a cabinet member for regeneration, transport and heritage informs much of my keen interest in high streets and how to deliver the mechanisms that will co-ordinate preserving and enhancing them. From my most recent engagements, I particularly thank the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the British Property Federation, Power to Change, the British Retail Consortium and the Local Government Association for adding greatly to my thinking and my determination to secure a Bill with cross-party support. Many conversations with local bodies, individuals and businesses over the years have informed the Bill and I place on record my thanks to them all. Most recently, I met representatives of the Stoke-on-Trent business improvement district, and I am delighted that they support my Bill.

No Bill is without critics, but where I have encountered them, they have been good natured and constructive. For the most part, we have resolved our differences through clarification and amendment in Committee. It is a necessary debate and it has been conducted well. I seem to have struck a chord with Members across the House in arguing that local authorities should be guided towards better co-ordination in ensuring that they understand the dynamics of local high streets in our constituencies, and should work in concert with local communities, property owners and high street businesses to preserve and enhance those treasured places in a way that serves and grows our local economies.

Our high streets are the beating heart of our communities, which was again evident at the vibrant Longton carnival and pig walk parade in my constituency last weekend. It was incredible to see thousands of people flock to the town centre. Huge thanks go to all the volunteers, particularly those in Urban Wilderness and Longton Exchange shopping centre who helped organise the event. It is also fantastic to see the expansion of the number of retailers that are setting up and the businesses that are opening in Longton. We have seen a reduced number of empty spaces, particularly in the Longton Exchange shopping centre, with new independent retailers setting up. They include Keep It Local and So Very Dog and also, across the road from my office, the oatcake shop Linny’s Kitchen, which I occasionally like to pop into for my lunch.

I also detect a strong belief that we as Members should be active participants in agreeing local designations, contributing to reviews, and compiling or commenting on improvement plans for our areas. Mrs Hamilton made an excellent and passionate speech in Committee in support of the principles of the Bill and how determined she is to see improvements in Erdington that she has been pushing for as a result of it. I know our high streets are close to her heart and I thank her for that powerful contribution.

Under the Bill, it will be for the Secretary of State to draw up the guidance. As he is an assiduous constituency MP, I am confident that he will have read the mood of the House that Members should be included as consultees. That is important, because it is also implicit in the Bill that local authorities will occasionally designate high streets that include property that belongs to bodies that are formally accountable to this House, rather than to local government. Network Rail is an obvious example. Indeed, in Committee, the Minister revealed that his own local high street area in Redcar includes Station Road, which I believe ends in Redcar Central station—but I will leave the local knowledge to him. It is important to leave as much of the process as we can as local as possible.

I stress that in Committee, following the passing of the money resolution on 5 March, the Minister explicitly promised money on the table for drawing up reviews of up to three high street areas per local authority This money, for up to three designated high street improvement plans, will be on top of that from the various grant-makers with pots of national money—bodies that are scrutinised by this House—to which any designated high street might appeal to realise improvements and, in particular, to preserve the important heritage and iconic character of many of our high streets. It is right that Members should be closely involved in helping to deliver on improvement plans, developing place partnerships that enjoy local support, leveraging both local and/or national funding and optimising the co-ordination of existing funding towards a compelling sense of direction for our high streets.

On Second Reading, I told the House about the aims I had for the Bill; the House kindly indulged my half-hour speech covering the issues, and Members across the House offered various constructive comments that have led to further improvements and clarifications through amendments that I was able to secure in Committee. I was not intending to speak for quite as long today, but I think the Whips are encouraging me to do so, so I will indulge the House a little longer.

We enjoyed a comprehensive and informed debate on Second Reading. Thanks to suggestions from that debate, specifically from my hon. Friend James Daly and Matt Rodda, the Bill was amended in Committee and now explicitly states that a high street can be designated to cover not just one road, but a collection of adjoining streets that are considered locally to be a high street area by virtue of the cluster of high street purposes served by those streets.

It is an important improvement to the Bill that it now specifically confirms that flexibility, which had only weakly been implicit in the right to vary designations and not explicit in making them in the first place. My aim has always been that the Bill should be demanding, but not onerous; it seeks to co-ordinate existing workstreams better, rather than add to net burden, and its provisions are deliberately as flexible as possible. It is vital for local communities to celebrate and preserve their local points of difference—all those things that make their particular high street a special place to be for residents and visitors alike.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Ceidwadwyr, Basingstoke

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech on an excellent Bill. Does he agree that the history and heritage of our town centres can be what really marks them out as different? Basingstoke is often seen as a new town, which could not be further from the truth. It has a 1,000-year-old market and was the birthplace of Jane Austen, the world’s greatest novelist. Does he agree that we should be making more of that history in our town centres?

Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Ceidwadwyr, Stoke-on-Trent South

I thank my right hon. Friend for that excellent point and I entirely agree: that heritage, that historical character of our high streets in particular, in many of our towns and cities right across the country, is so important and we need to make more of that heritage, particularly when thinking about attracting new uses to our high streets. Many of those heritage properties can be converted into excellent spaces for a whole range of new uses, attracting footfall and new businesses to the high street.

As I was saying, the Bill is also about ensuring that local authorities conform to a national requirement and that they undertake the process of designation, review and improvement in accordance with their local circumstances, with assistance from national datasets and best practice analyses that already exist and can be signposted through the Secretary of State’s guidance. Getting the balance right between local differences and national requirements is a concern. It was clear from colleagues that the original Bill, which specified that the local authorities should designate no more than three high streets, was not getting the balance right, and that the maximum number of high streets designated in each area should be a decision for each local authority. That change was secured in Committee; if local authorities wish to fund designations and reviews in addition to the three that will be funded by Government, they now can do so.

Of course, there will be numerous disagreements around which areas to designate as high streets and when. My own area is a city made up of six towns, and there are many other high streets right across north Staffordshire. There may well be spirited debate locally about how to improve them. There will even be disagreement, I am sure, about what the Secretary of State’s guidance should include and what central funding, if any, should be available. This Bill sets out a supportive and predictable framework in which such debates can and must take place, bringing the focus and direction that our high streets desperately need.

The Bill directly addresses a problem highlighted in December 2021 by the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee in its excellent report, “Supporting our high streets after Covid-19”, namely the absence of a plan for ensuring that local authorities have a capacity to develop effective place partnerships and place leadership. The Bill introduces the mechanism of designation and review, under guidance, and this is supported with national funding for up to three improvement plans that will be developed in partnership locally, led by local authorities.

I completely understand the reaction that local government often has when it feels as though it is being told it needs to do more. My background is at the coalface of local government policymaking. That is why I stress that the Bill seeks to get local government not so much to do more as to co-ordinate what it does better, with wider input and agreement, and a wider contribution of effort, in implementation and delivery from a range of interested partners in our high streets, ranging from community groups to our high street businesses. I am enthused by those authorities that can already see the benefits of having an improvement plan, and I am pleased that the money resolution means that the authorities that have been held back by the cost of formulating a plan will have that barrier removed.

The Bill provides the policymaking structure for motivating action in the use of the many powers that already exist and are at the disposal of local authorities, and in giving better accountability as to their use. The Bill ensures that our communities and high street businesses are empowered to call for the improvements that should be outlined in each plan.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Ceidwadwyr, Cities of London and Westminster

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech on a brilliant Bill that will make such a huge difference. Does he agree that the Bill will also give more power to local people, who will be able to hold their local council, its cabinet and their local leaders to account? If they are not doing exactly what the Bill’s objectives set out, people can vote them out and bring in a new council that will ensure that its local high streets are managed properly and people are given the powers they need to grow the local economy.

Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Ceidwadwyr, Stoke-on-Trent South

I thank my hon. Friend for those kind words of support. She rightly says that this is about accountability and ensuring that the people in our local communities are in charge of their high streets and can ensure that those authorities, which have the power to bring about change, are held to account for that and for their decisions.

Section 215 enforcement notices and other enforcement mechanisms will certainly be part of that mix. Unfortunately, section 215 powers, which are about enforcement where properties are in a bad condition and owners are not taking responsibility for their buildings, have not been used in our area. I made a freedom of information request recently about that and we found out that Stoke-on-Trent City Council had not used those powers once in the past 12 months. That is shocking, given the blatant need for a carrot and stick approach to address some of the concerns about our high street.

Change of use will also be another aspect of this, and having further reviews every five years ensures that improvement plans are living, nimble and able to respond to changing views and circumstances. Nor should we presume that a plan could consider every eventuality, so although it will be important to give consideration to improvement plans as part of local planning policy, they should not restrict and prevent positive development that may not have been envisaged when a plan was formulated.

Additionally, reviews can happen more frequently than every five years, if necessary. Again, that was further clarified through amendment in Committee. Importantly, the Bill does not prescribe that improvement plans must be fully implemented, complete and whole within five years. I want to clear up any confusion that there may still be about that. Rather, the Bill provides for plans to be more of a moveable feast, subject to periodic review to check on the progress towards delivery of what might be called an “ideal model envisaged”. That means that improvement plans can include longer-term ambitions, guiding principles and characteristics for high streets well into the decades ahead, with the ability to finesse those at least every five years.

Of course, there is the duty not to leave the plans covering dust on a shelf. Having a long-term vision that is delivered incrementally with maintained local support is the right thing to do. We can all think of examples of funding pots becoming available for so-called shovel-ready schemes, and many of us will have been frustrated when it turns out that nothing remotely shovel ready is on the books.

One of the great lessons of the high streets taskforce, which has been usefully embraced by a number of local authorities, including Longton, is the importance of getting a number of quick wins and a number of deliverable schemes within the shorter term, and having a longer-term vision and series of projects. The high streets taskforce has been an important and productive initiative for local councils of all colours, and I hope that its legacy, findings and best practice will live on through the Bill. It is work that deserves to be celebrated and continued, and we should all be grateful for the wealth of knowledge that the taskforce has contributed. The Bill is necessary to institutionalise that legacy further, developing it across local government and local communities. Having an improvement plan will help provide the basis for helping secure future funding, providing a more cohesive plan to help justify investment decisions, and will mean that certain schemes can be on the books whenever the funding is available. It also means that other projects that crop up can be knitted into the fabric to align better with the longer-term strategic vision and priorities for an area.

Without a clear vision of what a preserved and enhanced high street area would look like, I suggest that the spending would not be as optimal as it could, or should, be and the funding may not even be won at all. Much of the focus for Government investment would be better informed and would deliver better value for money through high street improvement plans. Indeed, local authorities and place partnerships will be able to engage with national bodies to push for certain optimal schemes or the refinement of them to help deliver greater benefits for our high streets within the spending envelope. That could mean infrastructure projects, such as with organisations like Network Rail and National Highways, environmental enhancements from organisations like the Environment Agency, or major housing delivery on some of our brownfields through organisations like Homes England. It is important that we improve the linkage of national organisations to better understand the needs of our local communities and high streets. Improvement plans can help do that through better co-ordination and clarity of direction.

High street improvement plans may also be important for Historic England in identifying areas in need of a partnership scheme in conservation areas, known as PSICA. The reviews of high streets will, in some cases, draw on conservation area appraisals as well. In some of those cases, that will expose the absence of appraisals and will help fill the gap, particularly where condition of those areas is poor. It has been exciting to work with Historic England in Longton to help save buildings on Market Street, and the heritage action zone funding we have secured has helped deliver on some of those buildings. However, it has not delivered on all those buildings, and we actually have a number of buildings that are still in a poor state. We have amassed knowledge and data about the ownership and condition of some of those buildings, and we need to move on to the next stage. I hope we will secure some additional funding for Longton through the heritage lottery fund to help improve and continue some of the good work already started through the PSICA scheme.

There is much more work to do, especially in ensuring that the traffic flow and public realm are optimised for footfall and dwell time in Longton town centre. I hope the use of some of the levelling-up partnership funding for the town centre will help. Also, some of the other plans that we have been developing, particularly around things like crime and antisocial behaviour, are important for many of our high streets and town centres. Longton has recently seen a spate of absolutely mindless crime and antisocial behaviour targeting a number of retailers. In the next few weeks, I will be meeting a number of them alongside Staffordshire police to discuss some of the issues.

I have been absolutely delighted to help secure more funding to address some of those issues. Working with our fantastic police, fire and crime commissioner, Ben Adams, we managed to secure extra Safer Streets funding for Longton, and for other parts of Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, to help deliver the improvements and create the secure high streets we need to see. In our case, they include additional CCTV throughout the town centre and gating off some of the alleyways that have attracted crime and antisocial behaviour. Those measures will help to ensure that people feel safe to visit, and encourage more people to dwell and shop on our high streets.

Only a comprehensive improvement plan can pull together the many factors and aspects that need proper co-ordination for a compelling high street experience. All that can be addressed in the guidance from the Secretary of State. I hope there will be a role for the Office for Place, now based in Stoke-on-Trent, in optimising the guidance. And it will be guidance, not prescription. I stress here that the Bill does not remove the power of article 4 direction that local authorities already enjoy to remove permitted development rights, if they see fit. That is a decision for them, and it will no doubt be part of the designation process to consider any PDR issues around a high street. In many areas, permitted development rights will actually be key to the enterprising spirit needed to revive high streets. Forward-thinking councils know full well that they cannot succeed in their regeneration ambitions if they allow themselves to have a reputation among developers of “council says no.”

The improvement plan process will ensure that authorities are comfortable as enablers of preservation and enhancements. We are blessed in Staffordshire, like in many parts of the country and particularly in north Staffordshire, to have many iconic high streets, whether in the more rural market towns of Stone and Cheadle, or in the pottery towns of Fenton and Longton that make up parts of the city of Stoke-on-Trent. But nearly all of them across the country have faced multiple challenges from online, out of town, and, of course, covid-19.

To conclude, we must act to address that decline, building on the work already being done by the Government through measures such as those set out in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023, and ensuring the powers in place have a higher likelihood of being utilised. It has been a pleasure to bring the Bill forward and to work with colleagues across all parties to discuss it, review it and improve it on its passage through the House. We all want to see our high streets reviewed and improved. We want them to be preserved and enhanced to celebrate their local character. We want greater footfall, driven by high streets that are safe and pleasant places to be. The Bill ensures that local authorities work with property owners, local communities and many others to realise that aim, according to their own local circumstances. It is muscular localism, and I commend it to the House.

Photo of Mary Glindon Mary Glindon Opposition Whip (Commons) 11:28, 26 Ebrill 2024

I congratulate Jack Brereton on bringing forward such an important Bill. I think every Member of this House will have a problem high street that they feel frustrated about and cannot get any work done on. I hope he will allow me to talk about the success in my constituency, which I think echoes the sentiment of the Bill and shows what can be done when some of the things he wants to see in the Bill are achieved.

I want to talk about my hometown of North Shields. North Shields is probably best known for the Fish Quay. The Fish Quay is a shadow of its former self in one way, but because of a lot of work that has been done on development it is now thriving. It is full of restaurants and shops, and we have the fantastic North Shields Fishermen’s Heritage Project, which has done a lot to highlight and record the history of our town. Next year, North Shields will be celebrating its 800th anniversary. I lived in North Shields from when I was born until I was 19. We lived in an upstairs Tyneside flat and then, when I was 19, my family were thrilled to move to another great area of North Tyneside, Wallsend, into a brand new council house, when we still had council houses being built on a grand scale. That was 1976, so we can work out my age.

North Shields has two high streets. The one that runs parallel to the river east-west is Saville Street. The one that runs north-south is Bedford Street. As in many other town centres, there has been so much decline over the years. Various schemes have tried to bring the town centre back to life, but there have always been reasons why it has not really thrived. Town centres and high streets are so important because they bring communities together, with friends and family shopping and meeting in the same area. When I was young we went shopping on a Saturday, and we would not get very far along the high street before our mother saw a relative or friend, and there would be little groups of people chatting and going in and out of the shops. Our high streets were great community spaces. Going to high streets now is very sad, however, because there is no life in them. People are just going into the shops; one or two might gather to speak to each other, but that buzz has definitely gone.

However, North Tyneside Council developed a masterplan for the North Shields area, doing exactly what the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South mentioned: bringing communities together to talk about what they want. What has helped with that is that there has been funding. North Shields has nearly £13 million for a transport hub and a new town square to transform the town, making it attractive and family-friendly again with a vibrant, high-quality high street feel.

The transport hub opened last September, and I was pleased to be there to see that happen. It is amazing. The money that helped transform it—the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South will be able to mention this as an example—came from the transforming cities fund, which came via Transport North East with help from the North of Tyne Combined Authority and North Tyneside Council—as a proud former council member, I will never fail to sing the praises of the great Labour North Tyneside Council.

The transport hub is a major part of North Tyneside’s ambitious plan to improve North Shields. What is really fantastic about the hub is the public toilets, which are a vital part of any town centre and high street. In the past, because of antisocial behaviour, a lot of public toilets were closed, and shops do not always have toilets that people can use. Some people with medical conditions really need to know that there will be a toilet in the vicinity when they go out. I know someone with prostate cancer—this example is from my family experience—who carries a card that they can show to access a toilet, if no public toilets are available. But people do not want to have to do that; they want a bit more dignity and not to have to search around for a toilet.

The new bus station’s toilet facilities are fantastic. There are six individual cubicles, each with their own toilet and sink—everything is self-contained. I take the bus from Wallsend to North Shields, and so far the facilities are being well maintained. We might worry about what happens to such facilities in the town centre, but people are showing pride, and that is the key thing—the difference is that there is now pride in the town centre.

In the town square there is an area where people can sit—we are calling it the piazza, to be a bit posh in North Shields. Entertainment is also provided, and there is a big screen—we have already seen music there—and that is just off Bedford Street, which is now the main street. Saville Street, the other high street, is a lot quieter. People walk down Bedford Street and, halfway down, suddenly come across this wonderful piazza. Visitors who come on the metro or the bus get off and see this wonderful community facility in the heart of the shopping area. We have a green square a bit further over. The piazza is concrete—it has some plants—but it has a community feel.

The new hub is the council’s first building with fully carbon-neutral construction, and the council hopes to achieve carbon net zero by 2030. The hub is sustainable, and its design and materials are at the forefront. The building uses solar energy and manages waste surface water, which is particularly important. Art is being installed and, to include the community, there was a competition to design a memorial to one of North Shields’s most famous sons or daughters. The chosen memorial is to Thomas Brown, who received the George Medal after he retrieved the Enigma codes from a sinking boat, which shortened the war. He was only 16. Sadly, he died in a fire with his sister at their house not many months after coming home—he has a surviving brother and sister. He was overwhelmingly voted as the person who should be remembered in the town square, which will be named after him, which is lovely. I went to the opening of the memorial.

After developing somewhere on the high street to celebrate our local history and local heroes, North Shields now has a buzz about it. It looks good, and long may that continue. We have a shopping centre, the Beacon centre, from the town’s last revival 50 years ago, when I was in my teens—I keep wanting to think that it was only 40 years ago. [Laughter.] It is all right for you young ones.

I have always been proud of North Shields, and I have been saddened when our high street has not been able to thrive. I now see pride returning to the people of North Shields. People, young and old, are gathering, shopping and enjoying their high street. I hope this Bill can achieve for other town centres and high streets what North Shields has achieved by getting funding, and by people and communities working and coming together, to restore pride and interest in the town centre because of its thriving high street.

Photo of Darren Henry Darren Henry Ceidwadwyr, Broxtowe 11:38, 26 Ebrill 2024

High streets are essential to our towns. They act as social hubs for our communities, and they attract people, which results in money being spent in our local economies. Across the UK, we have all seen high streets decline over the last decade. This can be put down to multiple factors, such as online shopping, energy costs and the pandemic. All of these things, and more, have meant that high streets are becoming emptier, and towns are the worse for it.

Businesses on our high streets were put under huge strain during covid. We saw large amounts of ingenuity from many who had to adapt and change their business models to survive. I saw many local businesses start delivery services or create new products that had not previously existed. In many ways, people adapted to a brand-new situation to keep their businesses alive. However, many were also supported by Government grants, and I was extremely grateful for that support, which was received by many businesses throughout Broxtowe that might not be operating today without it.

We have seen the loss of vital services from many of our high streets. In 2019 I discovered that we were losing our banking services in Stapleford, when a constituent spoke to me in the street to ask what could be done. This would have been a huge loss to our town. Online banking can be great, but it is not for everyone, so it is important that physical banking services exist in our communities. I got to work to ensure that banking services would be available in our high street. I finally managed to find Cash Access UK, which has now opened a new banking hub where customers of major banks and building societies can carry out regular cash transactions. That was a win, but other local services will also disappear if we do not look after our high streets.

There are many high streets in my constituency, with a huge variety of chain stores and independent businesses. In 2021, following a period of lobbying the Government, Stapleford received £21.1 million as part of a town deal, and its main road, Derby Road, has already benefited hugely from that funding. Independent shops such as Rowells received some of it to renovate parts of their businesses. Rowells has been in the town for 126 years, and I had the honour of taking Chris and Donna, its owners, to No. 10 Downing Street to thank them for what they do for Stapleford.

Bake Me A Wish, which opened last year, is a local businesses whose owners began baking in their home in Chilwell during the covid-19 pandemic. Following covid, they decided to open a shop selling delicious cakes and pastries—I recommend their honey layer cake—in a now up-and-coming Stapleford town centre, with footfall rising and far fewer empty shops than we used to have. That demonstrates the difference that the town deal has made.

In another part of my constituency, Beeston, many small and independent businesses have served the community for far longer than I have been around. Fred Hallam, a grocer’s and fishmonger, has been present on the High Road since 1908. I have previously taken the now Prime Minister to Fred Hallam to show him how much value it brings to our local town, and why it is so important that such businesses have the Government’s support. Another local business on the High Road that the Prime Minister had the privilege of visiting is Hairven, a hair salon opened by my constituent Collette. Hairven is not only an important fixture in the town, but provides apprenticeships for young people starting their careers in the hair and beauty industry. I am incredibly proud of the work it does. As we so often say in the House, university is not for everyone, and this and many similar businesses are providing an essential service in offering apprenticeships.

We need to ensure that our high streets are offering services that cannot be obtained online. They can also be a social hub: coffee shops and other such venues often provide a place to go for people who may live alone or feel isolated. Enabling them to be around others and visit a venue where they can meet a friend can go a long way towards tackling the endemic of loneliness that we are coming to see. I have been proud to speak in the House on numerous occasions about the need to do more to tackle loneliness and isolation, and I believe that high streets are essential in doing so.

The availability of accommodation in town is a further way of making high streets busier, but towns will not draw in individuals without having a variety of businesses. We have become more used to seeing empty store fronts along our high streets, which is a very poor situation, and I am therefore delighted that the Government’s Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 allows local authorities to instigate high street rental auctions of properties that have been vacant for more than a year. It will be up to them whether they take up those powers, but I hope very much that that will be done in Broxtowe to ensure that all our high streets are as attractive as they can be to both locals and visitors. I would add that I am very keen to see more high street businesses taken on by younger generations. Broxtowe has a huge amount of young entrepreneurship, and I am keen to encourage younger people to take on the challenge of opening high street businesses and bringing a fresh perspective to our high streets. Perhaps this is something the Government could look at following the debate.

The Bill from my hon. Friend Jack Brereton is vital, as it requires that we do not let our high streets fall into disarray. It provides that local authorities must not merely review a high street every five years but actively lay out an improvement plan. That puts pressure on local authorities to ensure that our high streets are fit for local communities. I believe a large contributing factor to the amount of footfall on high streets is car parking. People can be hugely put off from visiting towns where they cannot park or where parking costs are extortionate. In Broxtowe we have had huge issues with parking. I implore our local council to do more to tackle this problem, as it has a huge impact on shops, business owners and local residents. It is essential that we have a car parking strategy in our town centres and ensure that throughout busy times of the day we have available and affordable parking for all.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South for bringing this Bill to the House. High streets are in decline, and once we lose many of their facilities, they will not return. I am very pleased to see this Bill introduced, so that we can take action now to save our high streets and ensure they return to the buzzing social hubs we once saw up and down the country, including in my constituency of Broxtowe.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Ceidwadwyr, Cities of London and Westminster 11:46, 26 Ebrill 2024

I thank my hon. Friend Jack Brereton for this important private Member’s Bill. High streets are a fundamental part of any community, whether village, town or city—or two cities, in my case. They attract commercial activity to the centre, support the local economy and provide much-needed jobs for local people.

I welcome this Bill. By requiring local authorities to designate high streets in their area, publish reviews of their condition and develop action plans, it recognises the importance of enhancing our high streets. According to the Office for National Statistics, there are over 1,200 high streets in London alone, constituting almost 20% of the high streets we have in Great Britain. As Member of Parliament for the Cities of London and Westminster, I know the importance of the high street, as we are home to what is often referred to as the nation’s high street: Oxford Street. It may be only one and a half miles long, but before the pandemic the Oxford Street district alone generated £13 billion of GVA. To put that into context, that is 25% of the entirety of Wales’s GVA.

In central London, 25% of visitors are international, but they account for 50% of all spending. As Europe’s busiest shopping street, Oxford Street plays a key role in enticing these tourists to our country. Many visitors emphasise that tax rates play a role in their choice of destination. Many businesses in my constituency rely heavily on the revenue generated by international shoppers, yet since the abolition of tax-free shopping, we have seen a trend of these consumers choosing to take their business to other European capitals, such as Paris and Milan. We know that such visitors are spending less in the UK than in other European countries. We know that such visitors are spending less in the UK than in other European countries. In 2022, spending in the UK by American visitors reached 101% of 2019 levels, but in France it surged to 226% of 2019 levels. That data makes a clear point: we need a return of tax-free shopping. I have repeatedly made the case for introducing tax-free shopping to provide a needed boost to a wide range of businesses on high streets across the country.

We must also ensure that renowned British high streets such as Oxford Street retain their global status. As we have heard, shops on many local high streets are empty or closing—businesses have perhaps not survived the pandemic—and the same can be said of parts of Oxford Street. Up and down Oxford Street, there are now too many candy shops and vape shops. I understand that the landlords want rent to ensure that their property is a going business, but I am deeply disappointed that Westminster City Council has still not been able to deal with the plethora of candy shops on Oxford Street. Many of the tenants use shell companies, which is another reason we need an urgent review of Companies House—but I digress, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Of course, Oxford Street is not the only high street in the west end. We have what I like to call the trinity of Oxford Steet, Bond Street and Regent Street. All are situated in the west end and play an important part in the cultural and entertainment powerhouse that is central London. The trinity boasts some of the world’s most famous department stores, including Selfridges on Oxford Street, Liberty just off Regent Street and, of course, Hamleys, the world’s oldest toy shop, on Regent Street. Bond Street is home to some of the most famous luxury brands: Burberry, Chanel, Cartier, Dolce & Gabbana, Hermès, Jimmy Choo, Louis Vuitton, Mulberry, Ralph Lauren and Tiffany—I could go on.

The Bill goes to the heart of why we need to ensure the health of the local high street. An aspect that we tend to forget when it comes to the regeneration and protection of the high street is the role that business improvement districts play. In Cities of London and Westminster, BIDs play a massive part in ensuring that our high streets are used in the best possible capacity by making improvements to the public realm and enabling businesses to work together to ensure that the local high street is a going concern. In Westminster, we have a plethora of BIDs, including the New West End Company, the Heart of London Business Alliance, Northbank, Victoria, Baker Street Quarter, PaddingtonNow and Marble Arch London. In the City, we have Aldgate Connect, Fleet Street Quarter and many others. I pay respect to and thank the amazing Ruth Duston, the chief executive of an umbrella organisation that brings together a number of those BIDs. The difference that the BIDs have made to a swathe of high streets and commercial areas across my constituency is absolutely outstanding, and I thank Ruth for her service.

It is not just in the west end that the high street is important; the two cities are home to what I call villages or neighbourhoods: Elizabeth Street in Belgravia, Warwick Way in Pimlico, Berwick Street in Soho, Mount Street in Mayfair and, of course, Marylebone High Street—the high street for the village of Marylebone. All those neighbourhood high streets cater to residents and visitors alike, with their much-loved cafés and small businesses such as florists’, clothes shops, barbers, nail bars, grocers, bakers—you name it. Every one of our neighbourhood high streets has a small business, and behind those small businesses can be families. This Bill will do so much to support family-run businesses.

We have already heard today the huge part that our high streets play, whether in the capital city, an area like Stoke-on-Trent or anywhere. They can often make a village, a town or a neighbourhood in a city a special place to live for residents, including me. I am delighted to live in the village of Pimlico, where we have a whole number of brilliant local shops, restaurants and family-run businesses.

Photo of Mary Glindon Mary Glindon Opposition Whip (Commons)

It is important that people can live near the high street, and building houses on land that becomes available is so important for footfall. Does the hon. Lady agree?

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Ceidwadwyr, Cities of London and Westminster

The hon. Lady is right, and what she says relates to an important point about the regeneration of our high streets. We have to have people around high streets to use them and to benefit from the facilities and the services that they offer. That is one aspect I looked at in the regeneration of Oxford Street when I was the leader of Westminster City Council. We were looking at changes to our planning policy, because we know that with the changes in people’s behaviour with online shopping, not as many people are now coming to buy. They may come in to browse, but they do not necessarily buy. That is why I consider that for somewhere like Oxford Street, we should protect the ground floor in particular, and perhaps the first floor and the basement, for retail. Above that, often there are five or six floors. Shops such as John Lewis and House of Fraser as was do not need all that huge floor space any more, because of the changes in behaviour. I was more than happy to look at introducing residential aspects or hotels.

I thought that if we could have residential in Oxford Street, the type of people who would live there, on a high street, would not necessarily be families or older couples. It would be somewhere that young professionals, students or whoever would live, and they want access to retail at all hours of the day, restaurants, cafes and whatever. The hon. Lady makes a good point that we need to look at residential aspects, but we do not want to turn our high streets just into residential areas. We need that commercial zone, but local authorities need to box clever when they are considering not only how they can help the existing small businesses in their high streets, but also how to attract new ones in.

The Government are committed to supporting retail businesses of all sizes. Investment has been made in the high street through the £4.8 billion levelling-up fund, as well as the future high streets fund, which is worth £830 million. These initiatives help boost our local economies by creating more jobs and homes, while improving skills and infrastructure. We also had Government support worth £373 billion to the economy during the pandemic. We must never forget how much support this Government gave to secure hundreds of thousands of jobs in this country during the pandemic.

As I said earlier, online shopping continues to grow. The retail sector in high streets suffers from that. We saw that through the pandemic, and it continues to grow. Indeed, it is now easier than ever to shop online, with next-day delivery and free returns. There is less of a need for people to visit the high street to buy an outfit for that special occasion or the important interview they have coming up. This evolution of shopping is having an impact on the high street. Footfall is in decline, and the sector is grappling with a seismic shift in consumer habits. I therefore welcome the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South, which gets to the crux of the issue. It is important that we support our high streets in the evolution that is happening as we speak. As I said in my intervention, I fully support how the Bill puts an onus on local authorities to step up and protect their local streets in the face of changing customer behaviour.

Although it is true that my constituency is home to many thriving high streets, we cannot ignore the significant change in how we use our high streets today. As I mentioned, the candy stores on Oxford Street are a problem, and I really hope that Westminster Council will sort that out. It is becoming an increasingly common problem around the country when landlords want to secure as much rent as they can—that is understandable—but that demonstrates how we need to adopt a long-term approach to ensure that our high streets can thrive in a sustainable way. The Bill promises to do exactly that by presenting an opportunity to push local authorities to better use the tools they have to address these problems. As I said, the Bill will allow the residents of the town, the city or the area to hold their local authority to account and have a say, and if they are not happy with what their local council is doing, perhaps they could even vote out their council.

One way in which I have seen the issue successfully tackled is by changing the use of properties from shops to activity-based venues. As I said, I had the idea of perhaps attracting more residential use into parts of Oxford Street, but, just down from here on Victoria Street, two units that I think were previously a clothes shop and a restaurant have reopened as a bowling alley and a karaoke bar. Now, that might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but I have to say that I have partaken in the bowling alley activity; I took my team there last week. I will not give hon. Members the results of the competition, but I did not do very well.

There are also wider concerns about rising crime levels on our high streets. Shoplifting is at eye-watering levels. Late last year, I joined local people on a walkabout on Marylebone High Street and was shocked and appalled to hear that an increase in shoplifting has led several retail stores to lock their doors and allow people in only if they know who they are. I spoke to shop managers, particularly of clothes shops—those shops’ staff and managers tend to be women—who were very concerned about their own safety. People were coming in, grabbing clothes off the rails and running out.

We have heard a report today on the BBC about shoplifting in Manchester and the real threats that local shop staff face on a daily basis. Local people have reported that Waitrose on Marylebone High Street has removed products such as alcohol from its shelves to protect itself from being targeted by organised crime. It is often organised gangs who are involved in the dreadful crime of shoplifting. We call it shoplifting, but we should call it retail theft, because shoplifting does not really get to the crux of how it is theft, often with the threat of violence. We need to take it more seriously.

According to the Metropolitan police service, Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street were hit by nearly 18,500 crimes in the year to July 2023, and more than 80% of the area’s crimes that year were theft. Police and crime prevention are key to preserving and enhancing the character of our high streets. I welcome the fact that the Government have prioritised the safety of our high streets and policing with their retail crime action plan and the safer streets fund. However, it is clear that our local authorities need to do more to support those efforts and I hope this Bill will help in that process.

Through this Bill, local authorities will be encouraged to work more with local businesses and stakeholders on our high streets to develop new ideas, to encourage growth and to tackle the obstacles facing our high streets today. I therefore welcome the Bill and thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South for introducing it. It presents an ambitious and necessary plan to reawaken our local high streets and bring them roaring back to life so that they can better serve our local communities and boost our economy by attracting more visitors.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Ceidwadwyr, Basingstoke 12:05, 26 Ebrill 2024

I very much welcome this Bill and I congratulate my hon. Friend Jack Brereton on getting it this far and on advocating so passionately for our high streets. This Bill, which requires local authorities to designate streets in their area as high streets and develop an improvement plan, especially without that upper limit of three streets that can be designated as high streets, will provide a framework for our many local authorities to do more to support this important part of what my hon. Friend called the beating heart of our communities. He is absolutely right to term it in that way.

It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken. I was particularly struck by her drawing out of the concept of neighbourhood high streets. Although she obviously represents a far more urbanised area than I do, in my constituency we have both a town centre and other neighbourhood high streets, which need the support and help of our local authority just as the town centre does. That is an important thing to think about as this plan goes forward, and I am sure the Minister will reflect on that in his comments.

A picture has been painted already of the importance of high streets, so I will simply add that a recent poll found that 80% of respondents thought it very important that their high street was kept alive and healthy. That said, our town centres are incredibly fragile at the moment and they do need more protection. I think this Bill will incentivise local authorities to do the right thing and to have plans in place.

The economic benefits of town centres to our local economies are huge and considerable. Certainly in Basingstoke my town centre and high street service and support one of the largest centres of employment in the south-east. Not only residents but workers who come to Basingstoke, day in, day out use it. Town centres and high streets in our town centres promote civic pride and social cohesion and, as Mary Glindon said, they are places where we gather. That is an important part of their role as well.

However, high streets and town centres face considerable challenges, which is why I am speaking in support of this Bill today. My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster referred to shoplifting, and I think every hon. Member taking part in this debate will recognise the incredible way in which shoplifting has been turned into, frankly, organised crime. Individuals are organising themselves to go into shops regularly to steal large quantities of often high-value items.

I am pleased to say that the police and crime commissioner in my county of Hampshire, Donna Jones, has gone above and beyond in addressing the issue of shoplifting, particularly by supporting facial recognition technology, which will help our local retailers on our high streets immensely to do something about that appalling crime. She has reinstated the important beat bobbies in every single one of my communities—not just in Basingstoke, but throughout Hampshire—and made sure that they will be there to collect the evidence and intelligence on the gangs and individuals organising shoplifting. The police forces in our various parts of the country have an important role to play in the future health of our high streets. I know my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South will be looking for ways to ensure that they are absolutely at the heart of his Bill, so that our high streets are healthy for the future.

As has been said, the reality for many retailers and service providers is that what they traditionally offered face to face can now—perhaps more conveniently for some—be purchased or procured online. Shopping habits and consumer behaviour were already changing before the pandemic, but the change has accelerated enormously, forcing our high streets to think carefully about their role in the future. It is not just retail parks that are a threat to the future of our high streets; it is more fundamental than that, so it will be important that local authorities take consumers’ and shoppers’ behaviour into account when they look at the Bill as it is rolled out.

My “high street” in Basingstoke—the town centre is a network of streets and one very large shopping centre—has been considering this issue for a number of years. Back in 2021, thanks to the leadership of then council leader Simon Minas-Bound, we put in place a blueprint for our town centre that is very similar to what my hon. Friend is calling for in his Bill. It was approved in December 2022 under the then Conservative administration. It is called the “Town Centre Strategy”, and it is designed to attract more footfall to the town centre, based on changing consumer needs. It looks at how the environment can bring greater vibrancy, and therefore greater prosperity, to the town centre. The strategy was developed with extensive public engagement: there were more than 3,000 responses to the consultation. The masterplan that has been developed uses the historical layout of Basingstoke to reimagine the current town centre, not for the next five or 10 years, but for the next 30 years, so that our town is fit for the future.

That town centre plan must look at the heritage of our community. I felt it was important, at the heart of the future of Basingstoke, to recognise our incredible history. Jane Austen, the novelist, used to go shopping in Basingstoke, and I was very pleased to work with a number of local people, including the sculptor Adam Roud, to put a lasting memorial in my town centre to that incredible Hampshire citizen. The hon. Member for North Tyneside talked about remembering one of the sons of her community, and I made sure we were remembering one of our daughters. Jane Austen is a fantastic person to have as part of our history.

There is also the Willis Museum and Sainsbury Gallery and the marketplace. All that history and richness has to be central to the way we press forward with Basingstoke. Consumers’ changing needs and demands mean that they may not go to their local high street only to shop, even though we continue to value the independent retailers and the pubs and clubs that populate our town centre. They are also looking for experiences and entertainment, and our history will enable us to make a unique entertainment offer in our town centre.

I absolutely agree that this Bill promotes a way for our local authorities to ensure that they do the utmost to support our high streets and make the most of them as a way of creating successful communities for the future. It will put the beating heart into our communities, and I very much commend my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South for all the work he has done to bring forward the Bill.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Employment Rights and Protections) 12:14, 26 Ebrill 2024

It is a pleasure to respond to the debate and we have heard a number of interesting and broad perspectives from Members of all parties. I thank Jack Brereton for tabling the Bill and for working constructively with Members from across the House, with the many stakeholders who inevitably had a view and with the Department so that the Bill gained Government support. He described high streets as the beating heart of our communities, and that was an absolutely apposite description. I agreed when he talked about Members of Parliament having a leadership role in guiding their communities and making sure that they are fit for the future, and he drew attention to a very sensible amendment that added greater flexibility so that a collection of streets, rather than one street, could be determined by a local authority as a high street.

Recalling what Dame Maria Miller said about the historical elements of high streets, I want to reflect on my own town centre in Ellesmere Port, which is, of course, the one I know best. The original town centre was somewhere different to where it is today. It has been moving westwards and southwards over the years, but a number of important historic buildings remain in the older parts of the town that need a focus as well.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South also made an important point about how antisocial behaviour can be a blight on town centres and the important role of the police and other authorities in tackling it. He mentioned gating off alleyways, which has been a successful policy in my constituency. There is also a worry that it tends to move challenges and problems around rather than dealing with them entirely, but that is why enforcement is so important in such matters. The right hon. Member for Basingstoke gave an important perspective and articulated well the importance of crime prevention in making sure our high streets are attractive and welcoming places for people to visit.

My hon. Friend Mary Glindon gave us a glowing gallop through her part of the world and spoke with great local knowledge and pride about North Shields. She was right that the key to all this is how we bring communities together. Her particular point about how town centres used to be the place where people would see friends once a week on a Saturday afternoon speaks to the challenge. Of course, thanks to the internet and mobile phones, we can pretty much speak to anyone we want to at any point, at any time of the day, from anywhere in the world, so the importance of that central meeting point in a community has diminished in recent years. My hon. Friend also spoke glowingly about the work her council does, and I think most councils work well within their limitations in trying to breathe life into their high streets.

Councils certainly have an important role as, for want of a better description, anchor tenants in the town centre. My council has made a strategic decision to base its headquarters for the whole of Cheshire West in Ellesmere Port, which has resulted in a certain critical mass of people coming into the town. My hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside also talked about the importance of public toilets. We sometimes overlook that, but we need to be confident that there is somewhere we can escape to in an emergency. It is also important to pay tribute to the council workers whose job it is to make sure that those toilets are clean and in good working order, because, as we know, from time to time they can attract the wrong sort of attention. It is important that we acknowledge the role of the entire public sector in making sure that our town centres are clean and inviting places. I know that my community in particular has a has a lot of respect for Bernie, who spends every day trundling up and down Ellesmere Port high street, making sure that the streets are clean and tidy. He is well respected and admired for that because, rain or shine, he is always there doing that important role.

Darren Henry gave an important perspective when he talked about the impact of the withdrawal of banks from many communities. I congratulate him on his success bringing back some of that facility. I am afraid there has been a national exodus from the high street. I have spoken on other occasions about the importance of having a physical presence for important services such as banking, because some people will not want to or be able to deal with a computer. When talking about financial transactions, the security of a face-to-face interaction is important to people.

Nickie Aiken, perhaps understandably, had a different perspective about the importance of international shoppers to the high streets in her constituency. She identified a shared problem of all high streets: the rise of online shopping, which has made it much more of a challenge to attract people. It is great that we can now order anything we want at any time of day, and it will be on our doorstep probably the next day, but that has not come without downsides. That is why the hon. Lady’s point about a need for a broader approach to the high street was important, as was her discussion about residential and activity-based destinations. The right hon. Member for Basingstoke had a neat way of expressing that as experiences and entertainment—something that we all seek on a regular basis.

All Members spoke with great passion and sincerity about the challenges facing their high streets. It would be fair to say that there has been a decline in our town centres in recent years. Many are blighted by boarded-up outlets and pavements verging on empty. It is hard to escape a wider sense of malaise because, in many respects, town centres and high streets are the faces of the places that residents and visitors see on a daily basis. They are the individual identity of the area for those who work, socialise or shop there.

That importance has been reflected in studies conducted into the value of high streets to local people. Nationwide found in 2020 that more than seven in 10 people felt that their local high street was an important part of their community, but almost two thirds of people thought that high streets have been neglected and more than two thirds believed that they have fallen into decline. I am sure that those figures will be even higher in some constituencies.

Shop closures in recent years speak for themselves. The British Retail Consortium estimated last year that Britain had lost 6,000 retail outlets since 2018. That translates into vacancy rates that are unequally spread across the country and the type of shopping area. My hon. Friend Liz Twist noted on Second Reading that the loss of shops was more pronounced in the north-east, where the vacancy rate is nearly a fifth, compared to a rate of one in 10 in the south of England.

A similar pattern is noticeable in the type of vacant shopping outlets. According to the Local Data Company, in the final quarter of 2023 high streets and shopping centres had vacancy rates of 14% and 17.9% respectively, yet retail parks had a vacancy rate of only 7.6%. That experience is mirrored in Ellesmere Port, where we have the high street, Port Arcades in the town centre, and we also have Cheshire Oaks as the out-of-town retail destination.

We have all seen the big names go and the shift away from in-person banking in our town centres, which has accelerated the decline that we all have been talking about. It is of note that the footfall in high streets last year was still 10% less than before the pandemic. That trend has a potential compounding effect on high streets and town centres, as the businesses that remain are harmed by the diversion of local people to alternative areas. It can be increasingly difficult on the back of that to attract new investment. There are huge challenges ahead to break the cycle of decline, and I see these trends in my constituency: where once we had a bustling town centre and big-name stores on every corner as well as an arcade full of shops, we now have far more empty shops and therefore fewer people coming to the town centre. What was once a lively place is now, sadly, looking a little empty.

People want to have pride in their towns and when they see boarded-up shops and empty streets they feel that something has gone amiss, so I can see the good intentions from the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South in bringing this Bill forward. I think we all agree that something needs to be done to support our local communities and get them back to how we remember them—bustling, lively and full of energy and economic activity. However, the Bill also implicitly suggests the approach so far from the Government is not delivering the kind of changes we want. There is little indication that we are reversing the decline over recent years despite the many schemes launched by the Government —the strategy for high street regeneration, the future high streets fund, the high streets heritage action zones, the high streets task force, and most recently the long-term plan for towns and the high street accelerators. If all those schemes had been a success, we might not have needed this Bill now, but they are limited to specific areas or times and require competitive bidding processes, which, as the Public Accounts Committee has noted, have so far failed to deliver anything of note.

This Bill adopts a different approach, creating a duty on all local authorities to designate their high streets and create improvement plans, meaning in theory at least that all areas will be placed on an equal footing. These plans will set out proposals for the preservation and enhancement of designated high streets, with councils required to review them every five years and consider them when exercising planning functions. And as we heard from the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South, this will be a rolling review, and that is right: we should not let these plans just remain in stasis, because the retail environment is challenging and ever-changing.

It is refreshing that it is recognised that local authorities are the best vehicle to make decisions about their local areas. However, more needs to be done to tackle the problems our high streets face, because after a high street is identified and an improvement plan is made there appears to be no mechanism for the allocation of resources to ensure these plans are implemented. Given that council budgets have been stretched to breaking point since 2010, I see little scope for any improvement in the foreseeable future.

It would be useful to understand when the Minister responds what steps will be taken to ensure that local authorities are supported to deliver on the ambitions that we all share to regenerate our high streets. He made the important point on Second Reading that these plans should not be left to gather dust on the shelf, so what mechanisms does he envisage being made available to ensure there is real delivery of these plans? I hope—perhaps he will be able to explain and answer this—that the delivery of the plans will not depend upon councils having successful bids from whatever the next iteration is of the levelling-up fund and that there will actually be five-year investment programmes set out from central Government to match the plans. The reality is that any Government focus, however small, on regenerating high streets is to be welcomed, but much more needs to be done.

The most effective way of delivering substantial improvement to our high streets and cities across the country is not just through plans dictated from central Government, but through devolution and local government liberation. This will hand authorities, who have a much better understanding of the conditions on the ground, the right tools to make the right interventions for their local area. We support this Bill, but we also recognise that much more needs to be done to deliver the change we all want to see.

Photo of Jacob Young Jacob Young Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 12:29, 26 Ebrill 2024

I thank my hon. Friend Jack Brereton for his leadership on this very important and worthwhile private Member’s Bill, and for his unwavering commitment and efforts to champion our high streets.

This has been a fantastic debate. We have learnt a lot about the heritage of different high streets: Thomas Brown Street, in the constituency of Mary Glindon, was named in honour of the world war two hero who retrieved the enigma codes at sea; the 800-year-old high street in Basingstoke was the home of the author Jane Austen; the 126 years of Rowells in Stapleford; and the most famous high street in the world, Oxford Street, in the constituency of my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken. We also heard about the towns fund in Broxtowe, which has given £21.1 million to Stapleford, and the transforming cities fund in North Tyneside, which has contributed towards its new transport hub and piazza. Sadly, we did not hear from Justin Madders about the levelling-up fund, which has given £13.4 million to transform Ellesmere Port town centre.

As we heard in the debate, everyone here recognises that healthy and vibrant high streets are vital not only for local economies, but for the quality of life and pride of local communities. However, the challenges currently faced by our high streets are significant, whether from the lingering impact of covid-19 on footfall or the ever-present challenge of competition with online retailers. While some have been able to weather the storm, many have struggled. The Government are committed to working with local communities to help turn that around. The Bill will play an important role in that mission, alongside other Government interventions, as part of our broader strategy to help high streets reinvent themselves. They include injecting billions of pounds into high street regeneration and renewal, including the long-term plan for towns, which will invest £1.5 billion across 75 towns to give them the tools they need to build a better future for local people.

One of the towns selected as part of our long-term plan for towns is Canvey, in the constituency of my hon. Friend Rebecca Harris. Canvey, like all the 75 towns in our long-term plan for towns, will receive £20 million over the next 10 years to invest in local people’s priorities. I take this opportunity to thank my hon. Friend, who has for so long championed the people of Canvey Island. Without her advocacy and brilliant campaigning, we would not be able to give them that £20 million cash.

Our long-term plan for towns will sit alongside high street rental auctions, which will require landlords to rent out vacant commercial properties to willing tenants such as local businesses. That will help to create lively high streets with increased footfall. Of course, no high street is the same, with local areas best placed to find solutions to local problems, which is why strong local partnerships on the ground are key to successful regeneration. We want to support councils, local businesses and local communities to give them the resources and powers they need. I think of high streets in my own constituency, such as those in Redcar, Marske, Eston or Normanby.

Normanby is probably the smallest of the towns I have just mentioned. At the moment, it is beset with roadworks that are expected to continue for around three months. That is already having a huge impact on local businesses. It is important, obviously, that when local authorities plan such major roadworks, they give serious consideration to the damage they can do to local businesses. Mr Deputy Speaker, I cannot mention Normanby High Street without thinking of the late Kenny Surtees, who for as long I can remember had a card shop on that street. I think he would have had a few choice things to say to the local Teesside Gazette about how those roadworks are going.

The Government recognise that many local authorities have regeneration strategies already in place, but the Bill will make the designation of high streets and the creation of high street improvement plans a statutory requirement. That will ensure local authorities not only prioritise the health of their high streets, but use their available powers to drive forward improvements, such as section 215 powers, to require land to be cleaned up when it is detracting from the surroundings.

The Bill will require each local authority to designate at least one high street or network of streets in their area. Local authorities will be able to designate as many high streets as they want. However, the Government have committed to funding the costs of up to three high street designations. Any designation beyond that number would have to be funded by the local authority itself. Local authorities will then have to create plans for the designated high streets, which should be reviewed at least every five years. Local residents, businesses, community organisations and others, including Members of Parliament, will rightly have a real say on the action plans, and the local authority will be accountable for delivering them.

Accordingly, the Bill will require local authorities to consult on which high streets are chosen. Different areas will have different challenges, so the improvements we can expect to see will vary. The focus in one area might be on tackling antisocial behaviour—again, something we have heard about in the debate, and we have heard some fantastic examples of what police and crime commissioners are doing to tackle it—while in others it could be creating more green spaces to rest and socialise. What is crucial, however, is flexibility to ensure that local authorities have the agency to enact the best change for their area.

The Bill will also create a duty on local authorities to take into account high street improvement plans when exercising their planning functions. That will support the already strong protections for mixed-use high streets and the complementing tools available to authorities, such as changes to the use classes order in 2020 to create the commercial, business and service use class—class E.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank hon. Members for their suggestions for strengthening the Bill during its passage through the House. We worked with my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South to make some small amendments in Committee so that the Bill is as effective as possible. Those changes included ensuring that local authorities can make as many high street designations as they wish, with the Government funding up to three of those designations. That will give local authorities with a large number of high streets the flexibility needed to designate more than three, if they desire. I note my hon. Friend’s point that Stoke-on-Trent is a city of six towns, so there will clearly be more than three high streets that the local authority might want to intervene in.

We have also updated the wording of the Bill to allow for the designation of a network of streets, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, as the Government recognise that high streets are complex ecosystems that are not always limited to one street, but could be made up of a network of connecting streets.

Additionally, the Bill now sets out that local authorities must review their improvement plans at least once in every five-year period, with guidance to follow up on the circumstances in which local authorities should consider undertaking a review, such as where the area of the designated high street is expanded or reduced. That will ensure that plans remain meaningful and relevant. Following Royal Assent, we will issue guidance on developing the improvement plans.

The Government recognise that local authorities are best placed to know what their high street improvement plans should cover. Officials in my Department have already begun outreach with local authorities on the guidance and will continue to work with local authorities and other stakeholders as the guidance is developed. It is important that the plans are not left to gather dust but remain constantly relevant, as the hon. Gentleman reminded us. That is why the Bill requires local authorities to update their plans at least every five years, which we believe strikes the right balance between giving the plans enough time to have a meaningful effect and ensuring that they remain relevant to the reinvigoration of our high streets. We recognise that the measures should not come at the cost of overburdening councils that are already under pressure. As I have already mentioned, we will ensure that local authorities have the extra funding they need to be able to deliver the measures in the Bill effectively.

I am grateful that proposed new clause 1 was not moved on Report, as it would have removed all permitted development rights, not just those that change the use from commercial to residential lettings. I appreciate that that is a challenge in the constituency of Daisy Cooper, and I note that the LGA has echoed her concerns. I will meet both of them as the Bill progresses to understand the issues further and see what can be done to mitigate them.

As already stated, the Bill forms one part of a broader strategy to help regenerate and level up our high streets. Part of the solution is funding, with the Government investing billions of pounds into helping high streets navigate the difficult environment they face. The latest of that funding is the £1.5 billion long-term plan for towns, which will power ambitious regeneration projects over the next decade.

However, it is not simply about funding. With the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023, we gave local authorities new powers to reduce vacancies in their high streets through high street rental auctions. That will help to create lively high streets with increased footfall and activity that attracts people and businesses, increases pride in place and avoids the long-term presence of vacancies.

The development of strong partnerships, be it between national and local government, or between local businesses and communities, will be vital to the regeneration of our high streets. One such partnership is the high street accelerator programme, which I have the pleasure of leading and which will bring together businesses, residents and community organisations, with their local authority, to develop a long-term vision for revitalising town centres.

In addition, we have introduced significant planning flexibilities so that local decision makers can better manage the use of buildings in town centres and ensure that high streets remain places of commercial and social activity. That includes by converting class E properties; allowing a change of use without the need for individual planning applications; and using permitted development rights to introduce movable structures in pubs, cafés and restaurants, and to allow local authorities to hold outdoor markets. Permitted development also provides freedom to change more premises from commercial to residential use, so that much-needed new homes can be created in high streets and town centres, providing a mix of users, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster led on during her time as leader of Westminster City Council.

Alongside that, as I have mentioned, we are investing in our high streets across the country, with £15 billion of levelling-up funding since 2019 going to communities the length and breadth of the UK, including in Hyndburn and Haslingden, where my hon. Friend Sara Britcliffe has secured more than £50 million for her area. She has undoubtedly been the best MP that her constituency has had. I was pleased to visit it recently to see the historic town hall and the plans for the market hall, where, before serving as the MP, she used to have a stall, if I recall correctly. She is a brilliant champion for her constituents and I am pleased that we are able to help support her area.

Another area we are supporting is Nuneaton, which is also significantly benefiting from Government funding. I know that is particularly welcomed by the Deputy Chief Whip, my right hon. Friend Mr Jones. It is receiving a town deal worth more than £23 million and future high streets funding of more than £13 million, thanks to his advocacy. As part of that funding, we will help to build Grayson Place, which is named after Nuneaton’s famous Larry Grayson. His famous phrase, “Shut that door!”, has a particular significance for me as the MP for Redcar. This is disputed by the Deputy Chief Whip, but the first time Larry Grayson said that was when he was doing a tour in Redcar and the wind from the seafront kept banging the door on Redcar pier—he said “Shut that door!” and so it became. I hope that the good people of Nuneaton will use their vote next week to back their fantastic Conservative council to finish the job and continue to improve their area.

Of course, I could not omit to mention Stoke-on-Trent, which has had not one, not two, but three successful bids for levelling-up funding, as well as a levelling-up partnership, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South is keen to see investment in Longton. Stoke-on-Trent has never had such a focus from any Government, and I credit him for all his campaigning as a great MP over the past seven years.

To conclude, this Government are fully committed to breathing new life into our high streets, whether that is through the long-term plan for towns, the high street rental auctions or this Bill. Like my hon. Friend, I appreciate just how much this matters to the communities that we represent. Again, I offer my gratitude to him for introducing this Bill, to the Members who have supported it throughout the entirety of its Commons stages, to the Clerks and to my fab team of officials, who have helped with the Bill. I also pay tribute to the many fantastic council officers, who are often unnamed and unknown but who work day in, day out to improve their communities. The Government are backing this Bill and backing our high streets to navigate this period of change and emerge stronger for it. I look forward to supporting the Bill from the sidelines as it progresses through the other place and eagerly anticipate its becoming law.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee

If there is a Division later, perhaps after 10 minutes I should say, in Larry Grayson’s memory, “Lock that door!” I might give it a go. [Laughter.] With the leave of the House, I call Jack Brereton.

Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Ceidwadwyr, Stoke-on-Trent South 12:44, 26 Ebrill 2024

With the leave of the House, let me say that we have had a fantastic and fulsome debate. I thank colleagues across the House for their contributions, particularly Mary Glindon, who referred to the impact of the transforming cities fund on her constituency. We have had similar in Longton in my constituency, and I am grateful for the funding for new lifts at Longton station

I thank the Minister for all the support he has given to my Bill. He has been doing an incredible job in the Department.

I also thank my hon. Friend Darren Henry for his support. He rightly referred to the importance of our high streets as social and service hubs. I was not thinking of Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana and Tiffany when I first introduced the Bill but, all the same, I very much appreciate the contribution of my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken. Finally, I thank my right hon. Friend Dame Maria Miller for highlighting how our high streets matter to all our communities.

I hope the Bill will continue to proceed in the other place and become an Act of Parliament as soon as possible.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.