British Retail — [Sir Alan Meale in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 6th March 2013.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington Conservative, Watford 2:30 pm, 6th March 2013

I do not think that point is relevant in this particular case. As far as retailing is concerned, a payday loan company, provided that it is legal and proper in all that it carries out—I accept that there is a different issue—employs people in much the same way as a shop with the same number of staff. That is not to take away from the hon. Lady’s point, but from a retail perspective, it is important to realise that like traditional retailers, all those companies employ a lot of people and in that respect contribute a lot to the local economy, which is the subject of the debate.

Rates are an important issue to which the Government must turn their thoughts. The planning side of things is also important. The national planning framework, which I thought was absolutely excellent, gives a lot of emphasis to town centres and their development, but there seems to be no compliance mechanism. It must be remembered that more than 80% of planning applications for retail currently being considered are for out of town rather than in town centres. Given that it is generally agreed that the regeneration of town centres is a good thing, it would be good to have some form of compliance for ensuring that local authorities emphasise it.

We must accept that because there are now fewer functions for retail premises, local parades do not have the “get out of jail free” card that they used to have when new industries and uses would by and large appear. However one looks at high street retailing, there is less demand because of the internet, which has also brought many benefits. The Government’s current policies on relaxing planning rules to allow some units to return to residential use are a good thing and an acceptance of reality. Although one would hope that it was not the case and that some units could be live/work—for residential use at the same time as retail—the fact is that there are a lot of places where, if there is a convenience store, it is very good. I commend the convenience store sector for how it has adapted, notwithstanding the point made by Toby Perkins about the big supermarkets in all their guises, from hypermarkets to convenience stores, doing their best to dominate the market.

There is still a strong and good independent sector in this country, and long may it continue, but that sector will not fill up all the parades of shops and tertiary units, which were built with very good reason. In the case of many of our parents or grandparents—for some hon. Members, their great-grandparents—the husband would be at work and the wife would walk to the shops every day with the baby in the pram and the shopping trolley. The shops had to be nearby, because there was often no public transport and people certainly did not have a car. Most of us accept that has changed, and that planning laws have to change in respect of empty properties; we need both private and social accommodation and some of it could come from surplus retail space.