Draft text of the speech - may differ from the delivered version.
Speech delivered on behalf of the Secretary of State.
It’s a pleasure to be here today to talk to you about the importance of our town centres. Town centres are at the heart of our communities and neighbourhoods. They are the places where we come together, to shop, to work, to relax and be entertained.
This Government is committed to supporting our communities and neighbourhoods, we are therefore committed to helping support our town centres.
I am afraid you will have to wait for the National Planning Framework for the details but I can confirm to you today we continue to support the “town-centres first” policy, after all, a Conservative Government introduced it in 1996.
By focusing retail, leisure and office development in our centres we can help ensure that communities and neighbourhoods have easier access to their day-to-day needs gives people have the opportunity to link their trips to other shops and services.
Focusing development in our town centres also ensures people have a wider choice of transport options. This is opposed to out-of-town locations where accessibility for those without a car can be poor, and the range of other facilities on offer can be limited.
But, let me be clear. Supporting town centres does not mean that we are anti big supermarkets. Nor do we oppose out-of-centre development for its own sake. The policy has never been about that and nor should it be. What we do want is the right development in the right place.
We are also committed to wider reform of the planning system to encourage the growth that communities want and need. The bureaucratic and centrally imposed policies and targets we inherited from the previous Government failed. A system that doesn’t work creates uncertainty and frustrates growth.
So how will we make this happen? Last week we published the Local Growth White Paper, which set out the Government’s economic ambition to build a fairer and more balanced economy, driven by private sector growth. We recognise that an efficient and effective planning system is crucial to enabling growth, which is why we have announced that:
- We will reform the planning system so that it is driven by communities who want growth, rather then the system we inherited that stifles development and innovation and acts as a barrier to economic recovery.
- We will introduce a new duty to cooperate on local authorities, statutory undertakers and infrastructure providers to ensure that the right people and groups share information and work together to make the best decisions for their area.
- We will introduce a presumption in favour of sustainable economic development and introduce a new right for communities to shape their local areas through neighbourhood plans. We will also create a community right to build so that individuals, groups and businesses can deliver small scale development without the need for planning permission.
- We will fundamentally reform and simplify national planning policy and guidance, presenting to Parliament a simple national planning framework which will cover all forms of development. This framework will establish economic growth as a Government priority for planning, and will lift many of the complex bureaucratic burdens that have slowed down decision-making.
Of course, supporting town centres and reforming the planning is not enough to ensure economic recovery. For our businesses to truly prosper, they need to have the right economic environment - not just the right planning environment. That is why our reforms go wider than simply planning.
Viable town centres are also key drivers of our economy. We need to make sure all the different elements of our centres are supported. Community facilities are an important element to the health of our centres. The Coalition Programme for Government committed to giving communities new powers to help them save local facilities through a “community right to buy” scheme. We will be introducing provisions in the Localism Bill to give effect to this commitment.
As part of our determination to shift power to local neighbourhoods, we will be acting to ensure that community organisations have a fair chance to bid to take over assets and facilities that are important to them, whether that is their village shop or last remaining pub, their community centre, children’s centre or library, or a derelict site that could be transformed as a community hub.
This provision gives communities time to put together their bid and raise the capital. Assets will then be sold on the open market at market value.
I have outlined how we are returning power and decision making to the local level. But, we want to do more to help create a fairer and more balanced economy driven by private sector strength. The previous Government skewed the country’s economy by artificial boundaries and top-down prescription that did not work.
We have set out our ambition but we cannot rebalance the economy and tackle local barriers to growth from the corridors of Whitehall. Local areas have a better understanding of how their economies work, what local priorities should be and how best to tackle them.
That is why last Thursday, within the Local Growth White Paper, we announced the first 24 partnerships that we believe are ready to establish their local enterprise partnership boards and begin dialogue with Government about how we can support them in delivering their economic objectives.
Government’s vision for local enterprise partnerships is that they will help transform the economic geography of the country by creating a new local dynamism that will encourage economic growth and protect business with proper local accountability.
Local enterprise partnerships are one part of the picture for local economic renewal, but a critical one, allowing communities and businesses to use their combined weight to support economic growth and renewal, in areas such as housing, planning, transport and skills. Councils and businesses will come together to determine how best to tackle the challenges and address the needs of their local economies.
To support this, the White Paper also declared the £1.4bn Regional Growth Fund open for business. The fund will provide focused investment, support the creation of private sector jobs and will particularly support communities currently dependent on the public sector, helping them make the transition to private sector led growth and prosperity. First round bids for funding are requested by 21 January 2011.
Helping small businesses
So what are we doing to support small business? We recognise the importance of small businesses - they are a vital part of our economy. That is why we are also committed to helping them. We are already taking a number of steps to help firms with business rates such as:
- doubling small business rate relief for one year from October - eligible ratepayers with rateable values below £6,000 will pay no rates at all for that year
- committing to finding a practical way to make Small Business Rate relief automatic to reduce red tape and administrative burdens
- putting a moratorium on the collection of certain backdated business rates and making a commitment to cancel certain backdated rates bills, such as some unfair backdated rates tax for some port businesses
- considering the possibility of giving local authorities wide-ranging, discretionary powers to grant business rate discounts, so that they can respond to local circumstances by reducing business rates bills
- committing to take legislation to ensure that no new supplementary business rate can be imposed without the backing of local firms in a referendum
In conclusion, we are committed to giving back power to local communities and businesses so that they can truly shape and support the development and growth of their areas.
We are committed to fundamentally reforming and simplifying the planning system. As part of these reforms we will present to Parliament a simple national planning framework which will cover all forms of development.
And we are committed to supporting all elements of the economy - including small business which we recognise as a vital component of a successful and prosperous economy.
We recognise these are difficult times for many businesses across the country, but we are determined to do everything we can to create the right environment for businesses to develop and prosper.