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|Backbench Business: Future of Town Centres and High Streets|
|Tuesday, 17 January 2012|
Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak in the debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) on securing it. I do not think that I have ever taken part in a debate in which snot and knickers have been mentioned, so I look forward to reading Hansard tomorrow.
I welcome the Government’s review—it was long overdue. Let us face it, the problems of town centres are not a new thing: they have been occurring for some time. We need to create vibrant areas that are exciting to visit and in which social gatherings can be held. It is therefore important to deal with this issue. Mary Portas’s analysis is a good one. Shopping has changed, as have our habits. Where we go to do our shopping has also changed. There is much to think about in the report, and there is much in it that I support, although there are other bits with which I have a few issues.
I think that we are all in danger of simply repeating our maiden speeches today, because we are all, quite rightly, talking about our own constituencies. I shall do the same. The name of my constituency does not fully describe the area I represent, because I represent not only the town of Pudsey but the many other towns and villages around it. I want to talk about two examples today. In the Farsley and Calverley area of my constituency, there is a large out-of-town shopping centre, containing one of the biggest branches of Asda as well as one of the biggest branches of Marks & Spencer. It has had an impact on the towns of Pudsey and Farsley, because people travel out to the site.
Local enterprises are trying to get people back, however. Pudsey Business Forum, for example, has an excellent Shop Local campaign newspaper. It has also printed its own bags and held lots of events in the town. Recently, we were delighted to welcome back Pudsey bear at a Children in Need event, which was superb.
A local councillor in Farsley, Andrew Carter, should be congratulated on working closely with shopkeepers who are putting on street events to encourage people to come along. The church is also getting involved in the community. Many of the towns that I represent are old mill towns, and far too often mills have been knocked down and new houses built on them. In Farsley, encouragingly, two mills are renovating their buildings to attract businesses. One has all different types of businesses, including high-tech businesses, but the other is considering attracting retailers so that it can become an exciting place to visit. That is really good.
Another part of the constituency, in Guiseley, Horsforth and Yeadon, has been helped by the fact that the main supermarket, Morrisons, has built on the high street, which has encouraged people to go through the town centre on their way to do their weekly shopping. There are many lessons to be learned there, because we have changed our habits.
Mr David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that many supermarkets act as hubs within towns? For years, my area has had a Tesco in town, and people do their shopping in town and finish in Tesco. People now do weekly shopping, not daily shopping.
Stuart Andrew: I agree absolutely with the hon. Gentleman. We can see the difference. The town centres are still struggling—these are difficult times—but the fact that there is a major supermarket on the high street encourages people to do their weekly shopping there and then have a look at the other shops.
In many constituencies, parking is the big problem. Far too often, in the towns that I represent, from early in the morning through to fairly late at night, commuters take up the parking spaces that would otherwise be available to shoppers. In fairness, councils are trying to deal with the problem by introducing shorter-stay parking.
Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): My hon. Friend is making some powerful points. Is there not a big issue with the loss of parking in certain areas because councils are looking to retail their assets and use parking assets to fund council projects? We are losing parking spaces, which is having a big impact on town centres.
Stuart Andrew: I concur. It is important that where there are limited parking opportunities, we do everything possible to ensure that the parking is right for the area. I am delighted that my areas are now introducing time limits. I have one problem with a supermarket in Guiseley, however, that has caused huge problems by not working with the council. I hope that I can use this debate to encourage it to do so.
Finally, I want to talk about empty shops. My hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) had a go at charity shops. As someone who used to work for a charity, I found them an invaluable source of income. In some cases, they can bring life and vibrancy to a town centre—it is important to say that—although it might not always be desirable. In Armley, people have used their shops as centres or beacons of art, as a result of which they have not remained empty and unattractive. That has encouraged people to go along and have a better shopping experience.
It is good that we are having this debate, because it shows that we are in touch. MPs get criticised all the time but we are in touch with what is going on and we care about our town centres. We were once described as a nation of shopkeepers, and long may that continue. Read full debate