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Urban Problems

Volume 930: debated on Wednesday 20 April 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement explaining the criteria by which Government funds are available for combating urban malaise.


asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the Government's policy towards alleviating urban problems in major conurbations.

We are proposing to give a large measure of priority in the next few years to the regeneration of the inner areas of the major cities. Other cities and towns will have access to urban grants, I hope on an increasing scale, in later years. It is our intention to offer partnerships to five areas initially. We will consider proposals from other authorities with major inner area problems.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that references to the question of criteria seem to have been missed out in the answer? Is he aware that community development requires community involvement? Will the right hon. Gentleman make one criterion for specific spending plans the involvement and participation of the local community?

I am very much in favour of community involvement, but how, in each case, the community, in all its many different forms of activity and representation, can best be drawn in depends upon the discussions that we have with the partnership authorities. The particular arrangements must depend upon the views of community representation and our discussions. As for the answer not dealing with the criteria, I referred, of course, to areas that have a particular and special degree and scale of problem. It is to those areas that we are, as it were, giving our first attention. I think that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that in the areas that we have already identified there is a mixture of problems—high unemployment, rapid loss of population, an unbalanced residual population, and large-scale environmental dereliction all being present.

Is the Secretary of State aware that following the expectations raised by his speech at Bristol his recent statement to the House, though welcomed as a recognition of the problems, came as a disappointment to hon. Members on both sides of the House because of its many inadequacies? Will he tell us precisely when the White Paper will be published, in order that these matters may be debated in more detail?

This is a matter of subjective impression. I was not aware of the universal disappointment to which the hon. Gentleman referred, other than as expressed by him from the Opposition Front Bench. I welcome the Opposition's view that I am not spending enough on the problems of the inner areas. If they are to go on encouraging me to increase the resources available to help solve the problems of our inner areas, they will find me a most attentive listener and very easy to persuade.

I hope to publish the White Paper within the next few weeks.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the deep resentment felt in Newcastle upon Tyne at the exclusion of Newcastle from his inner city partnerships? Is he further aware that on any reasonable set of criteria Newcastle surely must come up to scratch compared with areas which were offered partnerships? Will he, as a matter of urgency, meet a deputation from the Newcastle City Council to talk to him about it and the possibility of including Newcastle in the partnership arrangements?

I am aware of the feelings in Newcastle and, indeed, other cities which have not so far been identified as partnership cities. I have not excluded Newcastle, because I have announced a provisional list. I assure my hon. Friend that I am willing to receive representatives of the Newcastle City Council to consider its case.

Is not the principal urban malaise in this question the fact that over 100,000 people are leaving London every year? Would it not be better to encourage industry to return to London than to encourage three of the London boroughs to persuade some of their residents to move to Crawley in my constituency, where there is an expanding population and the housing programme has been cut?

I am anxious to encourage appropriate industry to return to London and, in particular, to prevent the continued erosion and job loss in the central and inner areas of our capital city. Indeed, a number of the comments that I made in my statement were designed to bring that about.

Will the Secretary of State tell the Chancellor, whose deficit is £2½ billion less than we were told four months ago, that one vital way to help would be to restore the cuts in the amounts that local authorities can spend on buying and improving old houses and in the amounts that they can lend to would-be house purchasers who will not be comforted by building society mortgages?

I assure my hon. Friend that as and when additional resources come forward we shall consider very carefully the priorities for additional expenditure.

In view of the Secretary of State's jibe concerning public expenditure and the finding of resources to resuscitate inner city areas, may I ask why it is that, for the third or fourth time of asking, he has not answered the question that I have put to him previously, namely, the disposal of commercial and industrial properties in new towns in order to release public capital, which has done its job, for reinvestment in inner city areas?

The answer is perfectly simple. I am giving the hon. Gentleman the courtesy of actually considering what he said. It is one of a number of suggestions that are certainly worth study, and I am studying them. I am concerned to find resources to increase public expenditure in areas of greatest need. I welcome this new universal, across-the-Floor approach to the priorities of public expenditure.