Reducing and removing red tape is vital to enable businesses to bounce back rapidly as they reopen. In north Devon, we are blessed with vast areas of open space, so many of our pubs, cafés and restaurants will be able to open more effectively this summer if customers are able to spill on to pavements, car parks and beaches. I warmly welcome the Bill and the opportunities it presents to many of the local businesses that I love to visit, such as Johns of Instow, Lilico’s in Barnstaple, SQ in Braunton, The Rising Sun in Lynton and The Grove in Kings Nympton.
I recognise that consultation with stakeholders has been undertaken. However, with an elderly population in North Devon, I remain somewhat concerned. Clear access along pavements must be available to the disabled and partially sighted, who frequently find street furniture a hazard. I trust that that will be facilitated. I hope that the proposed amendments to the planning process will include measures to enable our town centres to revitalise themselves completely, giving speedy changes of use, and opportunities for new businesses or much needed housing to be rapidly developed in the unfortunately ever-growing number of vacant shops on our high streets.
All that will not be possible if our councils do not have the resource to deliver it. Multiple layers of councils in counties such as Devon do not always have that resource, despite their best attempts to deliver rapidly. Indeed, the interaction between different council tiers make such changes more challenging. Councils have made an unprecedented response to the pandemic, and I take this opportunity to thank the teams at North Devon District Council, the town councils and Devon County Council for their tireless commitment, despite the increased workload.
I fear, however, as we have already seen in North Devon, that some well-intentioned initiatives are hard to bring to fruition and take far too long to implement. Small district councils have small teams, some still working from home, with poor broadband that is already overloaded. Reducing red tape can only work if council teams are able to implement plans rapidly and have the necessary resources to deliver what our businesses and high streets so desperately need. That is not in any way to criticise the work of the officers and staff at my local councils, but more to recognise the structural difficulties that are endemic to multiple layers of local government. I would like to take this opportunity to urge everyone, in the coming weeks, to come and visit some of our fantastic pubs, cafés and restaurants in North Devon; to enjoy our great hotels, holiday parks and B&Bs; and to indulge in the new outdoor drinking and dining facilities that I hope will rapidly appear with the passing of this Bill.
Those of us who live in North Devon all year round know that people need to be robust to dine with us outside. It can be wet and windy, but that is part of the charm of a British seaside holiday. We have weathered many storms back home, and we will weather this economic one. The shops of Barnstaple, Ilfracombe, South Molton and Braunton will be more than happy to sell everyone additional waterproof and windproof layers as we seek innovative outfits in which to dine out in weather like we had this weekend—or people could take a leaf out of my book and wear a wetsuit more often.