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Support for Town Centres and High Streets

Volume 707: debated on Monday 24 January 2022

Reviving our high streets and town centres is an absolutely essential part of levelling up. Our £3.6 billion towns fund includes support for 101 town deals and 72 future high streets fund projects. We are also providing support to local leaders through the high street taskforce and by introducing new planning flexibilities.

History, heritage and high streets—these things mean so much to the people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke. Tears were flowing in the mother town this weekend after a fire ripped through the Leopard in Burslem. The Leopard pub has been standing since the 18th century and is where Josiah Wedgwood and James Brindley met to discuss building the Trent and Mersey canal.

In Tunstall we have empty high street shops, which are in a desperate state of neglect, with landlords all too happy to let them sit empty and uncared for. Will my hon. Friend outline to the people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke how the levelling-up White Paper can empower local councils and people to hold absent or rogue owners accountable for damaging the hearts of our community?

I know that many of my hon. Friend’s constituents will be desperately sad about the fire at the Leopard; I was also sad to see the footage of it burning.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his leadership and hard work on regeneration. His ten-minute rule Bill on rogue owners is being closely studied in the Department; Kidsgrove is benefiting from a town deal; Tunstall library and baths are being regenerated through the levelling-up fund, and the local council is refurbishing the town hall. However, there is a lot more to do, and I am keen to continue my conversations with him on this important issue as we look to future legislation.

The Secretary of State has not really proved very successful so far. Since the Secretary of State took office, the Chancellor has blocked any new money for levelling up, the Transport Secretary has halved bus funding and scrapped our trains, and while the Secretary of State is moving 500 civil servants into smaller cities and towns, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is taking 65,000 of them away. In April our nations and regions stand to lose billions unless he does his job. South Yorkshire alone will be short-changed by £900 million if money that once reached us via Europe is now blocked in Whitehall. That is money for skills, new infrastructure, apprenticeships and science.

“It could be deployed in our NHS, schools and social care”—

those are not my words but those used by the right hon. Gentleman in the referendum. Will he keep his promise that no part of this country will be worse off? Or should I ask the Chancellor?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for drawing attention to the fact that we are moving DLUHC staff to the great city of Wolverhampton. As I walk to my office in the morning, I walk past previous Labour Ministers looking radiant and John Prescott looking something, and I remember that they could have done this, but we are the party that is actually doing it and getting on with moving civil servants out of London. As for the hon. Lady’s wider points, she will have to wait for the contents of the White Paper. As well as the UK shared prosperity fund, matching those funds from Europe for each nation, we have the levelling-up fund, the community ownership fund and the high streets fund. Other than that, we are barely doing anything.

Thanks for that—I will ask the Chancellor.

That is not actually what I asked. I asked the Minister to guarantee that no part of this country will see its funding collapse in just 10 weeks’ time. It is absolutely great to see investment going into Newark, but what use is that for someone living in Barnsley or Bolton? Can he not see the problem? Money has been flowing to Cabinet Ministers’ constituencies and to key marginals, and still he refuses to come clean on how those decisions are being made. This weekend it became clear that the only way to get money out of his Department is to be at the beck and call of the Chief Whip. How can any community have confidence that they have a fair shot at getting some of their money back from his Department if he will not release, in full, the information he holds about how these decisions are being made?

It is true that levelling-up funds have been going to the constituencies of Cabinet Ministers—[Interruption.] I am sorry; I mean shadow Cabinet Ministers. Levelling-up funds have been flowing to—[Interruption.] I will admit at this Dispatch Box that money is going to the shadow Leader of the House, the shadow Education Secretary, the shadow Health Secretary, the shadow Culture Secretary: guilty as charged of levelling up those places, and on that we do agree.

I have been urging Bradford Council to prepare a levelling-up fund bid for the town of Bingley in my constituency which I very much hope will be looked on favourably by the Government. When will the deadline for the next round of bids for the levelling-up fund be, and what will the criteria be?

The next round of bidding for levelling-up funding will open in spring and we will set out the conditions for funding in due course.

The towns fund is a limited beauty contest. All town centres, such as Crownpoint in Denton and Houldsworth Square in Reddish, matter. Twelve years ago, those town centres had hanging baskets and planters, the street furniture was beautifully painted, and our main town centre park, Victoria park, had bedding plants. All those things have gone as the councils have faced 60% cuts. How are we going to get some civic pride back in communities such as Denton and Reddish?

That is a serious point, so let me address it in the consensual and serious way that it deserves. The rise of online shopping is posing major challenges to our town centres. That is why we are bringing forward the future high streets fund and the billions of pounds of funding that I mentioned. I also draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to things such as the community ownership fund, which helps to save these vital local assets. But of course we recognise that there is more to do, and more to think about in terms of how we change these town centres to help them adjust to a new world in which people will continue to spend more money online. We need to make them places where people work and live as well as just shop.