I rise to support the Bill again today, and I congratulate my hon. Friend David Tredinnick on all his work in getting it thus far. I am sure from the comments that we have heard today that all Members wish it a speedy passage through the House, because we understand the benefits that it will bring to our constituents and constituencies.
I believe that the Bill really will make a difference right across the country, as my hon. Friend has said. He used the phrase “we come into politics to make a difference”, and the Bill can make a difference to very many people in such a small and very simple way. Its aim is essentially to make it easier for local authorities to lower their parking charges to promote the economic vitality of town centres, by allowing local authorities to react more quickly to market changes, putting them on an even footing with the private sector and promoting parking flexibility, about which we have heard so much today, by allowing them to provide free or discounted parking at short notice to support town centre events.
The Bill is intended to make provision for local authorities to consult interested parties if they seek to increase the cost of parking charges, and to ensure that the impacts on towns are considered. It was described earlier as the Santa Claus Bill, but this Bill is not just for Christmas; I believe that it is for all year round. [Interruption.] I apologise; I needed to get that one in today.
My hon. Friend Amanda Solloway, who is no longer in her place, asked why we have not sought to change the law before. It seems crazy that if local authorities want to offer free parking in the weeks up to Christmas or on Thursdays for late-night shopping or for special events, it will cost them to do so because of the requirement to issue all the necessary advertisements. That seems hardly an incentive for local authorities to go down that route. In fact, it is almost a barrier to their making those changes.
In today’s economic climate, we hear a lot about the rise of internet shopping and out-of-town shopping centres. They all have their roles to play, but it strikes me that the Bill offers a simple and cost-effective way to enable councils to effect change. It is not about saying that they must lower all car parking charges, although there is many a day when we would all like that. It is about giving councils the flexibility to lower car parking charges when they feel that that decision is in the interests of the local community and takes into account the community’s needs. The Bill is a tool in the toolbox of local authorities.
Councils can win from the reduction in advertising costs. Residents can win because it will save them money. Crucially, retailers and local high streets can win as well. I understand that car parking revenue is important to local authorities, and I have mentioned the need to strike a balance. Local authorities may gain extra revenue overall from reducing car parking charges—for an event, for example—and from businesses, because if a town centre is thriving, income may be gained from business rates. The Bill is about local authorities being able to react quickly and support local events, businesses and residents.
My constituency of Aldridge-Brownhills is fortunate, as we do have some free parking, particularly in Aldridge village centre. I am a firm believer that free parking encourages people to shop locally, which is something that hon. Members on both sides of the House often mention and encourage residents to do. People pop into the local shops, do their banking and pop into the post office. If they are in Aldridge, they probably have a cup of coffee at Simply Delicious or at Sweet. People spend that little bit more time in the town centre, which adds to the vibrancy of the place.
The Bill is about cutting bureaucracy, which is something that Conservative Members often talk about. Put very simply, it is a no-nonsense common sense Bill, and I will support it.