My Lords, the Government's policy is and remains to focus new retail development in or on the edge of town and city centres. There is no intention to change that. We have consulted on a new draft PPS6 to replace the current PPG6. That reiterates the Government's "town centres first" approach. After considering the responses to the consultation, we shall publish the final version of the new PPS6 later this year.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I do not think that people who read the new draft guidance would interpret it in that way. They are interpreting it as a licence to build many more out-of-town centres. Will the Minister comment on that? The noble Lord and I, and many other noble Lords, recently spent many hours debating the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill. During those debates there was a good deal of discussion about the regeneration of town centres. I think that the guidance is contrary to the discussions we have been having about rejuvenating town centres and encouraging their development and it is contrary to the suggestions of his noble friend Lord Rogers about town development. I should like the Minister to comment on those points. This is a licence to build many more out-of-town centres rather than developing the high street, which we feel is very important.
My Lords, I do not see PPS6 in its draft form in that way and we should remember that it is only a draft. Perhaps it would be worth me reminding your Lordships' House of the Government's aims as set out in paragraph 1.2 of the planning policy statement. It states that it,
"covers town centres and principal town centre uses. The Government's key objective for town centres is to promote vital and viable city, town and other centres by planning for the growth of existing centres; and promoting and enhancing exciting centres, by focusing development in such centres and encouraging a wide range of services in a good environment, accessible to all".
I suggest that its intent is plain and simple. It is about the continued regeneration of our town and city centres. That is where the emphasis is and that is why we have a "town centres first" policy.
My Lords, my understanding is that when the Government decide to revise or review existing policy they consult widely within government. I am sure that that is true across government. My understanding is that the draft PPS6 reflects consultation with a range of departments, including Her Majesty's Treasury, the DTI and Defra.
My Lords, the draft PPS6 clearly favours large format stores. Can the Minister assure the House that PPG6, which has been in operation for the past seven years and has helped to protect our town centres, will not be undermined by the final draft of PPS6? Can he further assure the House that it will not undermine the amendment to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill moved by his noble friend Lord Rooker in response to the issue I raised about out-of-town stores being able to expand internally through mezzanine floors?
My Lords, we were more than happy to strengthen our position with regard to out-of-town and out-of-city-centre stores by putting in the "mezzanine amendment". That is an accurate reflection of the Government's policy intent. We are whole-heartedly behind our existing policy. It has worked extremely well. An evaluation in January this year confirmed support for concentrating on town centres. There is no doubt that PPG6, in its old form, has influenced a change in retail patterns and that major stores have responded positively to that. After nearly 20 years of everything moving out of town, new floor space in town centre schemes now exceeds that in out-of-town shopping centres and retail warehouse parks. We see that as a badge of success for this Government's policy in supporting "town centres first" developments.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that many of us are relieved by what he has just said, which is contrary to the newspaper headlines? Will he also say that existing out-of-town stores should not be allowed to expand? Will he confirm that public transport can work effectively only if it serves stores that are located in town centres?
My Lords, it is dangerous to be prescriptive on these matters. If the noble Lord thinks carefully about his statements, there is a danger in that. It is dangerous to say that one can have good public transport only in city centres and that one cannot have good public transport on the edge of town or in out-of-town areas. Our policy is very clear. We favour, support and want to see the continued development and regeneration of our city centres as the major centres for retail development in the future. That is the policy intent behind the revised PPS6.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware how much pleasure it gave to some of his noble friends to hear him say that the Government fully support their own policy? Perhaps he can tell us when the Government will support their own policy on other issues, such as House of Lords reform.
My Lords, this is a change of nomenclature. We are talking about policy planning guidance changing into policy planning statements. The effect for local planning authorities will be no different. There will be guidance and there will be statements. They are about helping local authorities to work through the difficult range of issues that they must sort out when dealing with complex planning matters.