Business and Planning Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:15 pm on 29th June 2020.

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Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee 7:15 pm, 29th June 2020

I add my tribute to the two brilliant maiden speeches that we have heard this afternoon, particularly—Members will expect this from the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee—the avowed commitment to girl power from my hon. Friend Katherine Fletcher. She spoke of Queen Cartimandua, whoever she may be. I will now lapse into the awful vowel sounds that she talked about and use the word “actually” rather a lot. It is okay, though; we became firm friends on our first meeting and she forgives me for being from south of the M4, although she does not yet know where that is.

This debate is a brilliant opportunity to highlight some of the challenges that our local businesses have faced during the pandemic. I welcome the measures that we have seen for pubs, in particular, including the ability to have off-sales and extend how they work. I will highlight two examples of what we have seen in my constituency so far; there are many other hostelries. The Hatchet Inn in Sherfield English got regulars to sponsor sheds in the car park, which are converted into dining areas. At the end of the pandemic, the sheds will be sent off to their new homes to become woodsheds. That provoked a challenge, which I would like the Minister to think about. Although the outdoor dining areas were brilliantly located in the car park, they were, of course within the curtilage of a listed building.

I am sure that many of us, up and down the country, have public houses that are also listed buildings—or perhaps my constituency is particularly blessed. The reality is that 18th-century pubs and coaching inns tend to be very small inside, and to have low ceilings and small doorways. The alternative—in rural areas, in particular, we can get away with this quite easily—is to spread outdoors into the car park or the beer garden.

That brings me to another point: the Rockingham Arms, in the village of West Wellow, has already installed a marquee at the front of the building, hard up against the road. I absolutely welcome it, and the Rockingham is one of my favourite pubs in the entire constituency, so I have no doubt that I will find myself in the tent on the car park. It does, however, bring outdoor dining much closer to local residents, so I particularly welcome local councils’ ability to exert their influence and work hand in glove with publicans and licensing authorities to ensure that solutions are appropriate for each place and circumstance. The Hatchet initially thought that it might have to submit a full-on listed building application, but it is working closely with Test Valley Borough Council to ensure that that does not have to happen. Those are exactly the sorts of challenges that will be thrown up on a case-by-case basis.

I wish to speak a little bit about pavements. We have heard the valid concerns about the elderly and those with disabilities, particularly from the RNIB and Guide Dogs, who are concerned that those with visual impairments will find outdoor seating a challenge, but we have to find a way to manage that. In the centre of Romsey, we are very lucky. Within the past 12 months or so, the county council has spent in excess of £2 million providing us with a new outdoor piazza in the centre of the town. I am sure that that will prove to be a real boon to premises such as Josie’s, Café Fresh and Café No. 5 by enabling them to have outside seating areas. If only we could make sure that the sun would shine. I give credit to the former leader of the county council—I must declare a personal interest—who was absolutely determined that the seating area would be on the side of the marketplace that stays in the sun until late in the afternoon. It is no good if such areas are in the shade.

This is, as I have said, a good and important Bill, but when we are talking about planning and business, it would be remiss of me not to get on one of my favourite hobby horses. I am possibly the only MP from the Solent region who will speak in the debate. I welcome the measures that are being taken to enable house builders to get on and build, which is important, and I concur with those who have said that that must be done sensitively in residential areas—of course it must—but in south Hampshire we have a particular problem with nitrates. It has not been able to grant planning permissions for many months because of the nitrate build-up in the Solent, which leads to algae. That means that we have a massive logjam in the planning system and many councils are in real danger of not meeting their housing targets, so while the Housing Minister is sitting on the Treasury Bench it would be remiss of me not to ask him, please, to crack on with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Natural England and find a solution to that significant problem.

Let me move on to another great hobby horse of mine. An enormous amount of work has been done to open up the economy in a safe and measured way—we have seen all sorts of sectors coming back—but I cannot help but feel that this has been a recovery designed by men, for men. We have seen female-led businesses left at the back of the queue. It is obvious that men with hair need barbers and hairdressers; they perhaps find less need for pedicures and leg waxes. It is noticeable that the beauty industry’s employees are 90% female and a majority of its businesses are women-led. We are preventing our female entrepreneurs from getting back to work. It seems to me to make little sense that a haircut is okay but a pedicure is not. Perhaps the Minister knows how far feet are from anybody’s mouth—although I have a habit of putting mine in mine.

I also want to talk a little about sport. Football, fishing and golf were very quick to return. I absolutely get that women like all those things, but football audiences are 67% male. What someone cannot yet do is open up a yoga studio. There is a massive difference between factory-style gyms with banks of treadmills and individual yoga and pilates studios, where there are very few aerosol emissions and which can be cleaned thoroughly between individual customers. Even in a group yoga session, there can be massive space between individual participants. Again, yoga instructors are 80% female and the client base is predominantly female too.

I appreciate that there is no longer a BEIS Minister on the Treasury Bench. I wish very much that the Secretary of State had been here to hear my comments, because it is crucial that we reflect the point that this apparently male-led recovery has taken little account of the physical, emotional or mental wellbeing of women. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to ensure that he considers, in winding up the debate, that we need a recovery that brings women along with us, or else we will fail.