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Volume 930: debated on Wednesday 20 April 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment for what purposes the Government are planning to make available extra resources to combat urban blight in Liverpool.


asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on what special steps the Government plan to take to combat urban decline on Merseyside.

As my right hon. Friend announced on 6th April, the Government intend to offer a special partnership to the local authorities for Liverpool. This will involve the joint preparation of an inner area programme. Urban grants will be related to the new programmes and will extend to economic, environmental and social projects. Merseyside generally should benefit from the new priority given to inner areas in the main policies and programmes of Government and from steps taken to strengthen the economies of these areas.

Will the Minister tell the House what is the point of withdrawing many millions of pounds from Liverpool in the shape of improvement grants, home loans, urban aid programmes and community development projects and making such a song and dance about it now that he is returning a bit of it?

I believe that the hon. Gentleman made this point when my right hon. Friend made his statement. I do not recognise the figure that he then quoted or the many millions of pounds about which he talks now. House building in Liverpool has not been cut, Section 105 has not been cut, and virement is possible between different programmes at present. If the hon. Gentleman cares to write to me explaining the details that he has in mind, I shall look into them.

Is the Minister considering the representations of the metropolitan borough of Wirral about the serious problems of inner area deprivation in Birkenhead and Wallasey? Will he give them serious and sympathetic consideration? Will he also explain whether the comprehensive community programme will do anything to help the serious problems in Wirral?

I have not yet seen the representations made from that part of the country, but I shall look at them with great interest when they come. I shall certainly consider them sympathetically. I repeat what my right hon. Friend said about partnership arrangements. The money available has to be concentrated on areas of highest priority. That does not mean that the urban programme, which is being transferred from the Home Office to my Department, will not be made available to other authorities throughout the country. In fact, the money available is being enhanced. Furthermore, we shall want to see comprehensive community programmes more carefully worked out in allocating money from the urban programme.

Whilst in no way wishing to deprecate the problems of places such as Liverpool, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he accepts that other urban areas, such as Kirkby, have employment and housing problems which are just as serious? Following the visit of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction, will the Minister consider sympathetically and carefully the housing problems of Kirkby, which, although a matter for the local authority, cannot be solved without a massive injection of Government money?

I know that my right lion Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction is actively considering Kirkby's housing problems. The fact that the Government have identified the priorities of the partnership cities does not mean that they have ignored or neglected the problems of other areas. Large sums of money go to other authorities through normal programmes. We hope that the country generally and local authorities will begin to recognise, as the Government have, the priorities of inner city problems, including dereliction.

Will my hon. Friend indicate when there will be a meeting between his Department and the local authorities? Is he aware that among all intelligent people on Merseyside there is general support for and acceptance of what the Government are doing in relation to this matter, but that the policy must now be translated into action? Does my hon. Friend realise that the quicker a meeting is held between the Government and local authorities to work out plans and to get something done, the more that will be warmly welcomed on Merseyside?

Obviously, I cannot give a date for a meeting, but I can give the assurance that a meeting will be held as soon as possible. The Government recognise the degree of urgency to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the obvious relationship between public building and unemployment among construction workers? Does he realise that 50 per cent. of the total of unemployed construction workers in the North-West Region are in the Merseyside and Liverpool travel-to-work area? In that sense, do the Government not feel the urgency of getting moving on this matter and of dealing with the dual problems of the housing stock and unemployment on Merseyside?

I accept the point readily. I know that my hon. Friend has made repeated representations in the House on this topic. Some of the money that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made available for the construction industry will be made available in my hon. Friend's part of the world.