Skip to main content

Planning Permission

Volume 563: debated on Monday 3 June 2013

2. What assessment he has made of the effect of the introduction of the flexible use class of planning permission on the high street. (157159)

The rise of internet shopping and the changes in people’s working patterns pose immense challenges to the traditional high streets. Our recent relaxation of use class restrictions will support innovation and promote imaginative new uses for existing buildings.

We have been working hard in my constituency to improve our town centres by knocking down derelict buildings, encouraging more civic events and attracting new businesses, but we need more powers and tools at our disposal, not fewer. These changes will make it easier for clusters of businesses such as betting shops and payday lenders to open. Why are the Government ignoring public opinion and not allowing local communities to have the powers they need to shape the decisions that affect their local high streets?

First, the relaxation relates to temporary use for only two years, so it is more about innovative models of business than about established businesses that would have substantial start-up costs. Secondly, local authorities already have powers, known as article 4 directions, to set aside any permitted development that they think inappropriate for a particular part of their area, and I encourage them to use them.

High street businesses rely on footfall; indeed, that is their lifeblood. Does my hon. Friend believe that his planning reforms will give sufficient help to the high street businesses in my constituency to increase their foot traffic and ensure that they thrive?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We in this House and the people in the town halls cannot entirely predict what will work in the different town centres of the land. The best way to do this is to make it easy for new businesses to set up and pull in the people who will then benefit the existing businesses in our town centres.

Given what the Minister has just said, will he explain why he has taken away from local councils and local communities the power to shape their high streets? Who does he think will benefit from the deregulation of use classes?

Labour through the ages—including, indeed, the father of the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn)—famously believed that the Government could run the economy and decide how we should be competitive. Government Members believe that it is business and entrepreneurs who can decide how best to achieve thriving high streets and town centres, which is why we are determined to make life easier for them, as Mary Portas recommended in her review.

I am not sure the Minister answered my question, so I will answer it for him. The people who are likely to benefit are payday loan companies, whose presence on our high streets has already increased by about 20% in the past year. Why does he think that those companies need a further helping hand, rather than our communities who are crying out for the powers to diversify their high streets according to local needs determined by them?

It is classic, is it not? “Determined by them” means determined by public servants and councillors, not by entrepreneurs and the people they want to attract as customers. There is still, as there has always been, an ability to suspend a permitted development that is not right for an area. That is why Barking and Dagenham council is consulting on an article 4 direction, which we welcome. That is exactly the right use of the law, which existed under the Government whom the hon. Lady supported.