I am most grateful to you for reminding me of something that I knew very well. I crave your indulgence, Mr Bailey. Being a superstitious person, I most certainly did not put anything on my tree that had “Act” on it, because this is not an Act and we still have procedures to go through. However, it is indicative of how anything to do with good will fires the imagination of the public and people like it.
I have referred to the importance of high-street shopping and given some statistics. My own main town of Hinckley was recently a finalist in the Great British High Street competition. Part of the way that we do things in Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council is to look very closely at cost-effective parking, which is seen as essential. It already has a process of consultation in place with the local business organisations. However, this is not the case all over the country.
To get to the meat of the Bill, clause 1 provides the Government with a power to make regulations that simplify the procedure to follow for lowering parking charges. At present, councils must give 21 days’ notification in the press and place signage in the car parks if they want to lower their charges. The private sector, however, can take a business decision to lower charges without going through this process. To give councils flexibility to reduce their charges, clause 1 allows the Government to simplify the requirement, putting local authorities on an even footing with the private sector.
Equally importantly, councils should consider the effect of increased parking charges on the high street. Clause 1 therefore makes provision for a consultation requirement, so that councils take on board the views of local businesses and residents when they are looking to increase parking charges on an existing traffic order. They must already consult when a traffic order is set up; however, it is proportionate to expect them to consult if they want to raise charges during the life of the traffic order.
I was asked on Second Reading what consultation looks like and to give a commitment to define it. I understand that my hon. Friend the Minister may have something to say about this and that some work is in hand to come up with illustrative regulations in due course. That is very helpful, and I thank him. These proposals also make provision for a circumstance where consultation is not required: where a local authority has lowered charges for a temporary period and is returning them to an existing level. The great thing about the Bill is that it will give councils the flexibility, instead of having to put a notice in the local papers 21 days before changing a charge, to decide that a car park is empty and that it needs to fill it to take the pressure off another end of the town, as in Hinckley, and they can do so immediately. Or, as the chief executive of Hinckley pointed out to me, it can reduce the charges after the Christmas sales, when people do not want to come into the town as much as before Christmas, and then bring them back up again. It gives a very simple power to local authorities to be flexible, which is important.
Taken together, both elements of the clause offer councils a real opportunity to take the views of their local communities into account, while giving councils flexibilities where decreases to parking charges are possible and can be made to better support the goal of thriving town centres. I was going to urge the Committee to agree that this clause stand part of the Bill, but since we are taking the other clauses at once, it may be appropriate if I urge the Committee to agree that all the clauses stand part of the Bill.