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Empty Retail Premises

Volume 566: debated on Monday 8 July 2013

In addition to the range of tools to tackle this issue that I mentioned earlier, we have cut red tape to help landlords make better use of their empty properties, and we have doubled small business rate relief for three and a half years.

I thank the Minister for his reply and for the initiatives the Government are taking. He will be aware that our provincial towns are scarred with empty shops as a result of changing shopping patterns. Are the Government considering further measures in partnership with the private sector and local authorities to deal with that problem?

Indeed we are, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will welcome our support for pop-up shops, including in the headquarters of our Department, as well as the financial support we are offering councils. We have set up two bodies—the future high streets forum and the industry-led distressed retail property taskforce—both of which will come forward with new ideas to help us develop the additional measures that he rightly says are needed.

On 3 June the planning Minister said that if local authorities fear that changes to use class orders are linked to more pay-day loan companies than retail on our high streets, they should use article 4 directions to limit the potential impact. On 17 June, he said they should not. Which is it?

The article 4 direction is available to all local councils and has been used successfully on a number of occasions. I remind the hon. Lady of the important review being carried out on betting shops to look at the ridiculously high—in my view—level of stakes and prices that currently exist.

While welcoming the small business rate relief, what discussions has the Minister had—or will he have—with the Treasury and local authorities to introduce more flexibility and try to support our streets that need regeneration, whether they are high streets or out-of-town activities?

I can assure my hon. Friend that the finest minds in my Department and the Treasury are discussing this very issue at the moment.