High Streets (Designation, Review and Improvement Plan) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons am 11:03 am ar 26 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

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.