High Streets (Designation, Review and Improvement Plan) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons am 11:46 am ar 26 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

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.