In the last fortnight I spoke, on behalf of the Government, at a Westminster Hall debate on the matter of town centre Heritage Acton Zones – which are programmes that help encourage growth in historic places and help heritage assets to be more productive.
I made clear that we should recognise our town centres for the crucial assets that they truly are. Town centres across the country – and of course here in Northampton – are home to historic buildings which not only attract tourists, but also attract business to the area and it is vital that they are protected.
You can watch my speech (about ten minutes) by clicking on the following link: https://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/d6334eef-d7a6-4c28-8bf9-0e84702c1312?in=15:22:40&out=15:36:49.
Town centres, including Northampton’s, are under pressure due to the growing national trend towards online shopping. Town centres are vitally important to the community which is why I am delighted with the Government’s recent proposals designed to support town centres, which include measures to:
· Cut business rates by a third for up to 90% of retail properties (those with a rateable value below £51,000) for two years. This represents a maximum saving of around £8,000 per property per year.
· Create a £675 million ‘Future High Streets Fund’ to help local areas make their town centres fit for the future.
· Consult on planning reform to make it simpler to create more homes, jobs and choice in town centres, as well as trialling a register of empty shops.
· Establish a ‘High Streets Task Force’ to support local leadership with expert advice on helping local high streets to adapt and thrive.
· Protect historic buildings in our town centres by helping Historic England to restore historic buildings that make our high streets special.
The last point is of particular importance to me as Heritage Minister; it is vitally important that we preserve Northampton’s history and heritage in light of the implementation of unitary authorities in Northamptonshire. I will do everything possible to maintain our town’s heritage.