§ 9. Mr. Keith Hill
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how many new out-of-town shopping developments await planning approval subject to appeals to his Department.
§ Mr. Hill
Will the Secretary of State reaffirm his policy of halting the spread of out-of-town supermarket developments, which have wreaked havoc on many local shopping centres such as Streatham high road in my constituency, where one in five shops now stands idle? To show that he is earnest in his intent, will he ensure that all appeals against such developments are now upheld?
§ Mr. Gummer
The hon. Gentleman will know that I cannot possibly prejudge any appeal now before me. The case of a site adjacent to Streatham is in that position, and I must therefore look at it carefully. I cannot say that all appeals will be turned down, as that would be wholly improper. I must look at each case, and sometimes the circumstances will be such that it is right to allow something which, in general, I seek to discourage. That is bound to happen. I can think of a number of cases on which the hon. Gentleman would probably agree with me, but I look at each case separately. I have made it clear to those who make such proposals that the priority is regeneration in our city and town centres and the liveliness of those centres, and I shall need extremely good proof that such a proposition does not detract from important city centre priorities before I grant permission for such developments to go ahead.
§ Mr. John Marshall
Will my right hon. Friend remember, when listening to the siren voice of the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), that the consumer likes choice and parking facilities, and she is more likely to get those out of town than in Streatham high road?
§ Mr. Gummer
I shall not be drawn on Streatham high road. It is essential for the regeneration of our city centres that provision for parking is made, that parking is properly run and that people are given the opportunities that they expect in out-of-town centres. I agree that people like choice and they must therefore have the choice not to use their cars if they do not want to or cannot, and they must have an opportunity to choose between shops, which is what city centres offer. Choice is not enhanced by destroying town centres where comparative choice and shopping is much easier.
§ Mr. Vaz
We welcome the Secretary of State's recent conversion to supporting town and city centres. Why is he so afraid to be clear about whether the Government support or oppose out-of-town shopping centres? How does he propose to deal with the hundreds of outstanding planning permissions granted for those monstrous sheds which, if implemented with his approval, would destroy his planning policy?
§ Mr. Gummer
Given the long list of Labour-controlled local authorities that have destroyed their city centres by damaging businesses within them, having taxed them out 990 of existence and ensured that, whenever business men wanted a new scheme, they turned them down, the whole country is littered with the results of bad local planning by Labour councils. The Labour party has done more to damage Britain's city centres than any other single force since the war. That is the problem that we face. The hon. Gentleman, who has not yet been converted to any planning policy and is in no position to say whether I have, should contain himself. Our policy supports city and town centres and the growth of the kind of life that we want there. Those who have already gained planning permission for a site will be able to retain it, because, unlike the Opposition, the Government do not go back on their promises.