We are committed to supporting regeneration in town centres through the £3.6 billion towns fund, which includes the £1 billion future high streets fund. Last week, we made an announcement on £80 million from the towns fund, which will go to more than 100 towns in England, to kick-start regeneration projects. We are also providing support to local leaders through the High Streets Task Force and have protected businesses from eviction during the covid pandemic.
My constituency office is in Liskeard, a small market town that is more than 1,000 years old. It lost the head office of the local district council when that authority was abolished and its farmers’ market has left the town. What more can be done to increase demand again in small town centres such as Liskeard?
I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the beauty of her town of Liskeard, and she knows that I, too, am a fan of her part of the country. The Government are totally committed to helping our high streets and town centres to adapt to changing consumer behaviour during this challenging period. To achieve that, the Government are supporting places across the country with the High Streets Task Force, which will work with local authorities and groups to get the access to the experts required to come up with the ideas and drive to build the skills for sustainable place making and share that best practice. We have also introduced reforms to planning use to enable that mixture on the high streets to drive footfall and businesses into our town centres.
High streets such as mine in Dudley have undergone a period of profound change—they did so even before the pandemic struck—so does the Minister agree that making it easier to convert commercial and retail units into new homes will help regenerate the high street and create more housing?
My hon. Friend is right. We agree that turning disused commercial and retail units into new homes can provide more housing, and create more vibrant town and city centres. A number of national permitted development rights allow for shops, offices and high streets to change to residential use, which will have the impact of creating environments where people want to live, work—[Interruption.] And play.
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for letting me stand in for my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah), who has not been able to get here, and I hope that the Minister will not be lost for words with this one. The Secretary of State has been criticised for the way he allocated taxpayers’ money through the towns fund. He will share my concern that there must never be any question of gerrymandering public funds, so will he explain why he ignored civil servants on how the towns fund should be spent, and blocked funds for Sunderland, Stockport and Ashington but handed out money to wealthier towns with more prosperous high streets, such as Newark, which he just happens to represent?
The hon. Gentleman knows that I have had a lot of respect for him in his previous work in this House, but I am disappointed with his position there. As an elected Member of Parliament, I am totally committed, like this Government, to driving up regeneration across the country, in no matter what part of the United Kingdom. Suggesting that there was anything underhand in relation to that towns fund is totally out of order. I can tell him that that fund has been allocated to towns up and down the country. They are dying for that regeneration and people want to see their towns developed, and we are committed to continuing to deliver on the promises we have made.