Town Centre Regeneration

Levelling Up, Housing and Communities – in the House of Commons on 16th May 2022.

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Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent South

What steps he is taking to support local leaders in regenerating high streets and town centres.

Photo of Kate Griffiths Kate Griffiths Conservative, Burton

What steps his Department is taking to help support the regeneration of towns and high streets.

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Regenerating our high streets and town centres is essential to the Government’s commitment to levelling up the country. The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill includes measures to tackle vacant properties, improve compulsory purchase powers and make temporary pavement licensing permanent. It builds on the comprehensive funding package already announced, including the £3.6 billion towns and future high streets funds, the £4.8 billion levelling-up fund and the recently launched £2.6 billion shared prosperity fund.

Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent South

I thank the Minister and the whole Cabinet for visiting Stoke-on-Trent last week. In towns across Stoke-on-Trent, encouraging new uses of property on our high streets has often been held back by complex ownership and the council not having the resources to tackle the issues. What more are the Government doing both to incentivise property owners to bring derelict spaces back into use and to make it easier to use enforcement powers where owners prove unwilling to do so?

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

My hon. Friend is completely correct. It was a pleasure to join the Cabinet meeting in Stoke last week and talk about how we drive forward regeneration there. Stoke is really powering ahead, and the measures in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill—particularly those to reform compulsory purchase orders and crack down on empty shops—will help things go even faster. That is in addition to the specialised support that Stoke-on-Trent is receiving through the high streets task force. I have also set up a meeting next month with all the infrastructure and regeneration bodies across Government to plan how we can build on Stoke’s three levelling-up fund successes.

Photo of Kate Griffiths Kate Griffiths Conservative, Burton

Burton town deal board has worked hard over the past two years in putting together a town deal we can be proud of. It is clear that constituents are passionate about our town, and they have worked with the board to ensure that the final plan will offer a great future for Burton. The plan has now been submitted. Can my hon. Friend offer any thoughts on Burton’s plans, and can he give an indication of when approval might be granted so that we can crack on with levelling up in our area?

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I praise the proactive approach that East Staffordshire Borough Council has taken, which includes working cross-party to build consensus. Its plans for the riverside regeneration in particular will be absolutely transformative. The business case documents are currently being reviewed by officials, and I hope to be able to sign those off shortly so that the projects can get under way.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee of Privileges, Chair, Committee of Privileges

The Rhondda is absolutely beautiful, but some of our town centres are let down by hideous old buildings which, frankly, do not need any levelling up; they need some levelling down. So will the Minister please put in place a levelling-down fund that will allow us to destroy some buildings, such as the bingo hall in Hannah Street in Porth?

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

At the same time as making an amusing point, the hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. The powers for compulsory purchase will help to unlock sites, including sites that the hon. Gentleman mentions which need fundamental change. The funding schemes we have put in place—the shared prosperity fund and so on—will help put financial firepower behind those regeneration schemes, too.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Labour, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle

One way to regenerate high streets is to repurpose old retail units as co-working spaces, and increasing the number of remote jobs available means people do not have to leave the place they love for the job they want. Would the Minister, and indeed any Member across the House, like to come to my Work Hull: Work Happy event on 23 June at 11 am to find out more about the benefits of remote working for productivity and opportunity?

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

It sounds extremely interesting, and I would be very interested in coming along. The hon. Lady is completely correct that remote working is potentially a really powerful driver for levelling up, and some of the measures in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, such as repurposing shops through the high street rental auction scheme, can potentially be really transformative for our high streets.