Invoking the Cromwellian era rather than the Churchillian one beloved by Boris, Robert Jenrick write in the Telegraph:
I am cutting the red tape and allowing shops to extend opening hours this Christmas and New Year
Robert Jenrick www.telegraph.co.uk
For Christmas shopping the high street in Newark has it all. A picturesque ruined castle, a cobbled market square surrounded by fine buildings that tell the story of England and at every turn charming and eclectic shops, cafés and pubs decorated with festive lights, trees and in different circumstances, an old fashioned grotto that is a favourite of my girls.
However, in this most unusual and challenging year, Father Christmas is not the only one whose presence is missed.
It is we, the customers, these enterprising shopkeepers would expect to be filling the lanes, laden with bags, giving them the end to the year they need to prosper.
As one said to me recently, not since the end of the Civil War has the town centre been in such a tight spot. Then it was under siege by Oliver Cromwell, today by a pandemic and the unstoppable rise of internet shopping.
No doubt this year will see record sales online. 2020 will be a watershed, with accelerated market forces already in train.
Of course, new jobs and enterprises are being created to service the demand, including down the road in Newark where thousands are now employed at the vast KnowHow distribution centre that delivers millions of TVs, phones and tablets to our doors.
Our town centres will need to adapt and evolve, seizing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to replace some retail and offices with housing and we in Government are providing the tools to facilitate that, like the right to convert one type of shop seamlessly to another or into a home, sweeping away the outdated Use Class Orders.
And the new right to demolish empty eyesores, enables small builders to regenerate town centres with good quality urban housing and save greenfields from development at the same time.
But let’s not write off the great British high street. It’s centrality to our sense of place and community is surely too important not to support in its hour of need.
As the national restrictions lift this week, and non-essential retail reopens regardless of tier, across the country we can show our support. And with some imaginative changes from Government we can enjoy the experience safely too.
Earlier in the year I cut red tape to ensure every pub, café or restaurant in the land could open for takeaway and delivery services, which proved a lifeline for many.
And I changed the law so that any establishment could apply simply and cheaply to use outdoor tables and chairs, playing a part in the alfresco dining revolution we experienced this summer and which I hope will continue this winter, perhaps under cosy blankets and heaters given our climate. Heat Out to Help Out if you like.
I’ve discovered so much regulation surrounding our high streets, it’s no wonder shopkeepers are having a hard time.
It seems that every administration since King Henry I granted a charter to Newark’s market has added more complicated and costly rules.
We’re changing that. Councils and others can now hold winter markets with ease. Pubs can erect marquees in their gardens for longer without planning permission.
I am going further and announcing a temporary relaxation in shop opening hours this Christmas and throughout January, asking councils to allow extended hours for shoppers on every high street Monday to Saturday.
None of us I suspect enjoy navigating the crowds and none would relish that when social distancing is so important to controlling the virus in the final furlong before the vaccine rollout commences.
So, with these changes your local shops can open longer, ensuring more pleasant and safer shopping with less pressure on public transport.
How long will be a matter of choice for the shopkeepers and at the discretion of the council, but I suggest we offer these hard-pressed entrepreneurs and businesses the greatest possible flexibility this festive season.
Therefore as Local Government Secretary I am relaxing planning restrictions and issuing an unambiguous request to councils to allow businesses to welcome us into their glowing stores late into the evening and beyond if wish.
And those stores and supermarkets will be able to replenish their shelves whenever they wish, with flexible deliveries to keep the streets free for the rest of us when we are out and about.
In a year when Government has necessarily interjected into our lives in ways none of us who value individual liberty would ever have imagined, these changes remind us that we can and must seek every way to reduce the burden of bureaucracy and free our small businesspeople to get on with earning a living and serving the public.
I hope we can return to this Conservative mission more broadly before long.
So this Christmas, look after one another by following the guidelines, but please support your high street.
Some like Newark have been there for a thousand years and with our help and the right approach from government, I suspect will long outlive the pessimists.