Friday 17th May - Ivybridge Town Hall
Friday, 7 June – Harewood House, Plympton
Friday, 21 June – Ivybridge Town Hall
Friday, 28 June – Harewood House, Plympton
Friday, 12 July – Ivybridge Town Hall
Friday, 19 July – Harewood House, Plympton
Friday, 26 July – Ivybridge Town Hall
please call 01752 335666 for an appointment.
Medalist Elizabeth Haywood visits Westminster
Gary Streeter meets Stacey who designed this year's Christmas card.
Gary invites schools to take part in autism challenge
Gary Streeter MP, this week lent his support to the Atrial Fibrillation (AF) pledge
Speech on High Streets
High streets and town centres have been under assault for many years from out-of-town shopping centres. Perhaps that horse has now bolted, but there is the new threat of internet purchasing. That is, in part, a generational thing. In the place where I live now there are four families, as three of our grown-up children and their spouses have joined us in our little community, which was described, when I became a Minister in 1996, as an evangelical community on the edge of Dartmoor. That sounds very alternative, but it is nothing like that. With three families of a younger generation, it seems that the delivery vans arrive several times a day as a result of their internet shopping. We grandparents are not really doing it, but the younger generation are. This is a very new assault on the high street.
That is why I strongly support what is perhaps the key recommendation of the report—that a new vision for the high street must recognise that it is not just about retail but about culture, community and leisure. We must make a visit to the high street or the town centre like a day out. It should be a pleasurable experience, and not just about retail.
Mr Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that many of those who make purchases on the internet take the trouble to visit the high street and look at the product that they wish to purchase, only to go home and buy it more cheaply on the internet? Without the high street, that market simply would not work.
Mr Streeter: I think that that is right, although my daughter and son-in-law spend most of their time browsing not in the shops but online, and make their purchasing decisions in that way. Either way, of course, is good. High streets will never compete with the internet or out-of-town shopping centres on retail alone. That is the important point that the report tells us.
My constituency of South West Devon has three shopping centres: Plympton, Plymstock and Ivybridge. Most of those communities will be well known to colleagues in this House. Over the nearly 20 years in which I have been privileged to represent those communities, I have seen the ebbs and flows of the high street. It is right to say that local people want to support their town centres, but it is important that the offer from them is right and attractive.
Mary Macleod: Will my hon. Friend give way?
Mr Streeter: I will of course give way, but for the last time.
Mary Macleod: Does my hon. Friend agree that market days have a role to play in the high street to give shoppers something different? On Saturday, he is welcome to come to the Turnham Green terrace market day in Chiswick, in west London.
Mr Streeter: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. She is absolutely right. However, if I had a choice between being in Devon or Chiswick on a Saturday, I know which one I would choose. [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] I suspect that most of my colleagues would say exactly the same thing.
I thought that it would be helpful if, drawing on this excellent report and my experiences over the past 20 years, I came up with the five golden rules for regenerating our town centres and high streets. The first is to have local leadership. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) spoke eloquently about what the Government should do, but let us talk about what the local community should do. Bottom-up local leadership is crucial in sparking the regeneration of our town centres and high streets. I give the example of Ivybridge town council, which already has in place a neighbourhood plan and has engaged the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment to come up with a brand new vision for the town centre.
Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?
Mr Streeter: I will not, if my hon. Friend does not mind. I have given way twice already, and I have an awful lot to say.
Ivybridge town council is very keen on the report that Mary Portas has produced and hopes that the Government will formulate a number of policies to make it a reality. Local leadership, particularly from the energetic town clerk of Ivybridge, Lesley Hughes, is a crucial part of taking forward the regeneration of our town centres. Two of the other areas that I have mentioned, Plympton and Plymstock, are suburbs of Plymouth and do not have their own town councils, and we can see a real difference in how they grip the need for a new vision.
My second point is about the buy-in of the other local authorities involved. Whether they are district councils, county councils or unitary authorities, it is very important that all the relevant authorities are involved in bringing forward new visions. They need to be brought together on issues such as land ownership, parking, highways and various other powers.
We have heard talk of the important part that business rates can play in town centre regeneration. The Minister for Housing and Local Government is listening to me right now, and I say to him that the Government need to encourage and incentivise local authorities to make more creative use of business rates collected locally to underpin and support local businesses and new economic development in their communities. Let us find ways of doing that.
Thirdly, I wish to mention car parking. I have been through 20 or 30 years of town planners, architects and academics telling us that we need to build sustainable communities with the car designed out of them. I am sorry, but it has not worked. Whether it is right or wrong, the people of this country have chosen the car. For most of us, in our rural communities, the car is absolutely essential. In many parts of my community there not one bus a day but one bus a week, and if someone misses it by two minutes they are in for a long wait. It is essential to provide space for car parking in the regeneration of our town centres and high streets, and for that parking to be either free, very reasonably priced, or free for a certain period. We are all lazy.
I also support “pop and shop” schemes whereby people can park outside a shop for a few moments even in a pedestrianised or semi-pedestrianised area, to pick up their dry cleaning, get cash out of the bank, buy the grandchildren an ice cream or whatever. I am afraid that the idea of designing out the car is now old-fashioned and has to be consigned to the dustbin of history. Car parking must be at the heart of what happens.
Fourthly, we need flexible planning. In the west country we have a lot of rural areas and a lot of rural planning authorities that have done a great job of preserving our countryside for many generations. However, I say to them that we do not want our town centres or high streets to be museums. We need much more flexible planning laws. I agree with Mary Portas that we should change the law on use classes to make it much easier to change from one high street use to another. I suspect that planning officers in many parts of the world need a paradigm shift. In too many places, their default position is to say no and then try to justify it. I hope that our planning guidance, which has somehow got stuck somewhere in the system in the past few weeks, will be introduced early in this new year to encourage and incentivise local planning officers to allow new life to be breathed into our high streets. We need much more flexibility, because our high streets must not be left as a museum.
While I am on the subject of planning, it is worth saying that sometimes English Heritage does not help us. I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) will agree that the decision to list Plymouth civic centre as some kind of historic and beautiful building, when it is probably the ugliest thing outside Dudley, is absolutely disgraceful. [Interruption.] Have I got myself in trouble there? I think I probably have.
Fifthly, landowners and developers need to be brought into the equation, and they need to be much more creative. I shall finish by returning to Ivybridge, where there is a development called Glanvilles Mill that is full of empty or half-empty shops. We need much more creativity in establishing a new development to bring Ivybridge into the 21st century.
I commend the report to the Government, and I hope that at the end of the debate the Minister will tell us that he supports it completely and will bring in a lot of new policies to make it happen.