I, too, am happy to support the Minister on his amendments. Like other Members, I have been lobbied by constituents who think that they should have the right to intervene, with a proper planning process, in the unique case of a pub. It will be a great pleasure to write back to them to say that we have a listening Minister who has heard their representations and the strong lobbying by colleagues here who have been campaigning on this issue for a long time. However, when we make this legislative change, we must also remind people that it does not save every pub. As Toby Perkins made clear, those who are keenest to save their local pub need to make sure that enough people use it. The only ultimate guarantee that it can continue to serve is that people like and support it, or that they in a friendly way influence the owner or manager so that it provides the service and range that they wish and it will thereby attract sufficient community support. This is a welcome legislative change but we need to remind people that local government will be no more able to save a pub than national Government if there is not that strong body of support in the local community and an offer that people want.
The Minister is right to give the pubs the maximum flexibility to change what they do. If pubs are to serve the evolving communities of our country, they sometimes need to move on what they offer by way of the balance between food and drinks, the ambience and the surroundings, because people’s tastes and people change, community by community. I therefore welcome the extra flexibility he is giving.
The main point I wish to make relates to the wider issue of changes from offices to homes and other changes of use class. The Minister is right to say that he needs to preserve flexibility. Any Member visiting a high street or centre in their own or another community knows that an avalanche of change is taking place. The internet, digitisation, robotics and automation are making a huge difference to the way business is conducted and services are delivered. A lot of change to the shape of the high street and the adjacent streets, and some of the office areas, will be required to make sure that the property there is updated and flexible so that it can meet the requirements of these evolving businesses.
We need flexibility, as in some cases we will have too many shops or offices, and it would be much better if they were converted to housing, because there is considerable need in town and city centres, as well as elsewhere, for additional housing. If some of that could be at prices that young people can afford, that would be an excellent bonus, as we still face a huge problem, with a new generation of potential homeowners priced out of many parts of the country by the very high prices. We need to understand that many of the new businesses and the new service offers will be internet-based and will come from new service centres that do not have to be in the town centres, and that the kind of things that people do need physical property for in the town or city centre will be different from the more traditional uses to which we have been accustomed.