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Local Authorities (Partnership Schemes)

Volume 932: debated on Wednesday 18 May 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what are the implications for the local authorities concerned of the partnership arrangements recently announced by the Government.

The partnerships will involve local authorities, Government Departments and agencies in drawing up and implementing joint programmes of action. Extra help will be available through main programmes and from the enlarged urban programme. I hope to discuss in the near future the arrangements with the authorities for the areas announced in my 6th April statement.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the local authorities concerned are worried that the Government will spend the £100 million that has been granted purely on building new houses, while the local authorities feel that most of the money should go on refurbishing and renovating existing houses in order to preserve intact the character and the communities of the inner areas?

I should be surprised if there were genuine anxiety. There ought not to be any, because the areas that I have already designated as partnership areas are ones of housing stress. There will be no interruption in their new building programmes. As for the allocation of the money, I am most anxious to hear the views of the local authorities on that matter. I shall not impose on them any preconceived ideas about how the money could best be spent.

In his consultations with the partnership areas, will the Minister not forget those small urban areas that are not included in the scheme? Will he instruct his officials to look sympathetically at the relatively small demands for housing and other such relief of urban deprivation that may be requested by such areas—especially in view of the fact that towns such as Swadlin-cote, in my constituency, do not have the advantages of the big cities but have just as much urban deprivation?

I understand the concern about this, but I shall not forget about the smaller urban areas. Following the transfer of the original urban programme to my Department, I shall be looking at that programme to see how far I can help other areas as well.

Will the Secretary of State say whether the partnership arrangement for the London docklands will be with the local authorities or the joint committee? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that if the arrangements are made separately with the local authorities the chances of effective action will be diminished?

The hon. Gentleman has made a good point. There is a special arrangement in dockland and I hope shortly to discuss with dockland representatives the appropriate arrangement for partnership in that area and with the special organisation.

Does the Secretary of State realise that he could help in a major way in the inner city areas without spending a penny of Government money? Is he aware that in these areas there are vast amounts of disused dockland and railway land, some of which has not been used for 10 to 20 years and the current use value of which is nil, in spite of which the local authorities are being asked £20,000 or more an acre for this desperately needed land?

I agree that there is much disused land in inner city areas, particularly land that is no longer needed for port operations that have ceased. I am most anxious that such land should be released. However, one must take account of the authorities that hold that land. For some of them it is important collateral for their own financial arrangements, but I shall be anxious to encourage them to release at an early date land that they do not need.

In view of the Secretary of State's answers to this question and a previous one, will the right hon. Gentleman recognise the need for a rapid and urgent programme for the sale of commercial and industrial assets in the new towns so that resources may be speedily released to help deal with these serious problems?

I must warn the hon. Gentleman that he is exaggerating this possibility. I was asked whether it would be possible to raise money on some of the assets of the Commission for the New Towns and whether we could use those resources for other public expenditure purposes in inner city revival, and so on. I said that I am prepared to look at the possibility, and I shall do so.

14.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects to publish his White Paper on partnership schemes for inner city areas.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his announcement that £17 million will be available for investment in the London docklands has been welcomed in East London? Bearing in mind his announcement today that he will seek discussions with the Docklands Joint Committee on the body through which that money should be spent, can he indicate the nature of the items on which it could be spent and the time scale involved, assuming that the discussions are satisfactory and quick?

Now that the £17 million has been allocated to docklands, it is for the dockland authorities to establish their priorities for expenditure. They can start spending the money as soon as they have agreed on what they wish to spend it. As the authorities are linked in the dock-lands arrangement, I think that they will wish to consult each other and, as far as possible, make the spending proposals fit into the general context of the dock-land strategy.

Will the right hon. Gentleman make plain in the White Paper what steps he is taking to ensure that inner city areas are making use of their increased rate support grant that has been taken from county areas? Since the county areas have suffered this deprivation, may we be satisfied that the money is not being used just to hold down the rates, but is actually doing something for these inner city areas?

I certainly hope that the inner city areas that are partnership areas will look at the extra resources available to them, not only through the enhanced inner city grant but through the rate support grant. It would be irresponsible if the authorities regarded cutting back the rates as an alternative to getting on with inner urban reconstruction.

As it seems that we shall not reach Question No. 21, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman—?

I was just making the point, Mr. Speaker. Will the White Paper on inner city areas cover the problem of empty properties? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that at a recent public inquiry two inner London areas, one of which was Lambeth, were shown to have more than 4,000 empty properties? Should not local authorities be encouraged to co-operate with housing associations to get these properties occupied?

I do not have details of the authorities to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, but better use and improvement of the housing stock in inner city areas is an important part of our general strategy.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the initiative taken in the London borough of Brent, where my council recently called a conference on unemployment and has this week held a conference on the development of the Park Royal estate? Will my right hon. Friend consider, in the White Paper, giving encouragement to local and other authorities that are trying to participate with the Government, business and trade unions to secure solutions to the inner city problems?

I am pleased to hear of the initiative being taken in Brent and I believe that initiatives have been taken by many other authorities in the last two years. I hope that the White Paper will be completed fairly shortly and I hope to indicate in detail what we meant by extending the powers of local authorities to give assistance to firms in their areas.

As the right hon. Gentleman continually stresses how little money, relative to the problem, is available for inner urban development, why did his Under-Secretary say earlier that the Government were not even prepared to undertake a valuation of new town assets so that the House could have a real dialogue on whether priority should be given to the sale of those assets and their rolling over into inner urban areas?

I do not see any contradiction between what my hon. Friend has said and what I said a short time ago. I said that I had received a proposal from the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi), who, as we know, puts forward proposals in a most serious way. I have replied by saying that I shall consider it. I am not prepared to take the matter any further than that at present.