Local authorities are required to notify my Department of article 4 directions before they are brought into force. In the year to 31 October 2013, 97 article 4 directions have been made by 43 local authorities.
Today the Treasury has finally moved on payday loans, which is welcome, so why is the Department making it easier for payday lenders, betting shops and fast-food takeaways to open up without planning permission? Does he recognise the concerns of the Local Government Association and others that article 4 directions are
“ineffective, inefficient and heavily bureaucratic”?
I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman has shown a consistent interest in this area. Article 4 directions apply to different parts of the sectors that he has outlined and local authorities can use licensing and a range of other powers to keep things under control. I would suggest that the right hon. Gentleman discuss the matter with his Front-Bench team, which seems happy to be entertained by the gambling industry rather than do something productive about it for the benefit of our high streets.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The high street will be driven by consumer use, but it is also quite right for local authorities to use the powers they have to make sure that their high street or town centre is vital and vibrant for the benefit of their communities.
20. There are 40,000 empty shops on UK high streets, and the Minister and his Department are doing the best they can to stack them with payday loan companies, loan sharks and betting shops. What single policy has his Department implemented that has helped to reverse this trend and get proper shops in our high streets? Is there one single policy? (901217)
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has had a chance to consider the fact that, unlike the previous Labour Government, we have trebled small business rate relief, as well as giving power to local authorities. I strongly suggest that authorities use the powers they have to discount business rates, as well as utilise the 333 town teams working hard for their communities around the country. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not want to give these people the credit for the hard work that they are putting in.
The Minister will no doubt be aware that the most recent issue of Planning magazine reported its survey results showing that a lack of resources in council planning departments was seriously holding up decision making. Why, then, is the Minister exacerbating the situation by forcing councils to bear the brunt of expensive article 4 directions time after time after time? Why will the Minister not give councils and local communities real powers to shape their town centres instead of burdening them with costly bureaucratic hoops to jump through?
I would gently say to the hon. Lady that, as I said in response to the main question, 97 article 4 directions have gone through this year alone, while local authorities have their local plan as well as article 4. The clue is in the title: the planning should be plan-driven. There are also town teams, Portas pilots and, as I said, more than £900 million-worth of business rate relief for small businesses, as well as the power to discount more locally. I suggest the hon. Lady get behind the town teams that are working so hard instead of putting them down.