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High Streets

Volume 617: debated on Monday 28 November 2016

The Government are committed to supporting high streets. We are cutting business rates for many retailers and developing digital high street pilots in Gloucestershire. In the run-up to Christmas—my hon. Friend’s background is in retail—I hope that we can all take the opportunity to support our local high streets, shop local and support Small Business Saturday this weekend.

The Sodbury chamber of commerce is starting a programme to help local businesses to use social media to promote the high street. What are the Government doing to support initiatives such as that being demonstrated so skilfully in Chipping Sodbury?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Last week, I chaired my first future high streets forum, where we heard about the excellent work undertaken in the digital pilots across Gloucester, Cheltenham and Stroud. That is an important tool through which we can attract people back to our high streets. We will be doing further work through the forum on these digital roll-outs.

In my constituency, many small towns, such as Flint, Mold and Holywell, have to impose car parking charges because of the financial situation that they are in, yet large, out-of-town retail developments such as Cheshire Oaks, which is just over the border in England, have free parking. Has the Minister had a chance to look at how we can help to support small businesses on the issue of town centre parking?

I would be more than happy to welcome the right hon. Gentleman to North Lincolnshire Council, where, when we took control from the Labour party, we scrapped parking charges, introduced two hours of free parking and all-day free parking on Saturdays and Sundays. It had a wonderful effect: it brought people back to the high street. I would be delighted to see him in Brigg and Goole any time soon to discuss the matter further.

When it comes to supporting our high streets, will the Minister join me in welcoming Small Business Saturday this weekend, because it plays such an important part in helping our smaller, independent retailers on our high streets? Will he join me in congratulating North Devon Council, which has just announced an hour’s free parking in Barnstaple in the run-up to Christmas?

I am more than happy to congratulate North Devon Council on its announcement on free parking. As I have said, free parking has made a huge difference in my area in bringing people back to our town centres. I reiterate that I hope that Members will get out and support Small Business Saturday throughout the country.

At the recent world town centres summit in Edinburgh, many things were on display, including apps that allow people to put entire towns, including high streets and small traders, online. What plans do the UK Government have in that regard?

We are working through the future high streets forum on the issue of connecting people better to their high streets through digital media, including social media. I point to the example of Bishy Road, York, which last year won the Great British High Street award and used its winnings to develop an app with Newcastle University to do just that. A lot of work is going on in that regard.

Fixed odds betting terminals, the crack cocaine of gambling, have led to an explosion in the number of betting shops on our high streets. What are the Government going to do about it? Aside from my amendment, what is in the Neighbourhood Planning Bill to tackle the explosion in betting shops, which no one wants?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s comments. It is important that we have a mix of different outlets on our high streets and I know that there are concerns about this in many town centres. It is of course for local councils to make appropriate use of the powers available to them, but I am happy to look into the issue further and discuss this with the hon. Gentleman if required.

The Minister has just referred to alternative uses in our town centres, and one of them can be tourism. Does he agree that a great example is provided by Rugby Borough Council in its development with World Rugby in creating the Hall of Fame, opened earlier this month, in the most appropriate place: the birthplace of the game of rugby?

There can be no better place for such a venue and I congratulate Rugby on that development and my hon. Friend on his support for it. It is true that we need our town centre spaces to include a mix of different uses to attract people back into our towns, to support the retail offer there too.

It is obviously a very remarkable facility if it is situated in the high street; it certainly has to be acknowledged.