High Streets (Designation, Review and Improvement Plan) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons am 11:38 am ar 26 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

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.