14. What steps his Department is taking to support local high streets. (98967)
The independent Portas review covered many issues affecting high streets. We will publish our response in the spring, but in the meantime we have introduced measures to support high streets through business rate relief, and local authorities have new powers to levy business rate discounts.
As in many town centres across the country, retailers in Coalville in my constituency have struggled in recent years to compete with out-of-town shopping centres. To tackle that decline the North West Leicestershire chamber of commerce has been established to breathe new life into the town. Does my right hon. Friend have any advice or help from central Government for such groups to aid them in their worthy task?
That is an excellent undertaking. We sometimes forget that shopping centres are what makes home and are what communities tend to gather around. We have set up a competition to select pilot areas to bring new life into town centres and I hope that my hon. Friend’s authority will apply.
Tenby and Pembroke in my constituency are absolutely critical to the economic recovery in the area but do not always have access to the Government initiatives that are available in England, particularly the Portas pilots. Is the Minister working with the Welsh Assembly to make sure that Welsh high streets are not left behind English high streets?
The Secretary of State will recognise that Mary Portas recommended changing the planning use category for betting shops. There is a mini-Las Vegas appearing across our cities, with teenagers ending up in our betting shops. Will the right hon. Gentleman take the opportunity to do something about it?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. We had an opportunity to walk down the high street together, where he showed me the problem. We are taking action. We are currently consulting on user class and I hope he will take the opportunity to make a powerful case.
Stockport is bidding to become one of the Portas pilots. I am sure the Secretary of State will agree that, with its ancient market and other historic heritage sites, it is uniquely placed to develop a new offer to shoppers, so may I urge him to give his fullest consideration to Stockport’s bid?
The Minister can also expect an enthusiastic bid to be a Portas pilot from Chippenham in my constituency. In order to maintain the creative momentum from the Portas review, what plans does he have to reinvest in town centres and high streets more of the business rates that they earn?
Chippenham is the apple of my eye, a wonderful town. My hon. Friend makes a reasonable point. Although the Portas review will help, we are giving local authorities the chance to be in the driving seat, to see that where they generate income they will be able to apply that locally. Increasingly, the Government have demonstrated localism, not just by words but by deeds, by shifting the power and particularly by shifting the finance closer to the people.