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Urban Areas (Private Assistance)

Volume 973: debated on Wednesday 14 November 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will take steps to relax planning, fire and building regulations so as to help bring more private investment into redeveloping rundown urban areas.


asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will take steps to relax planning, fire and building regulations so as to encourage more investment to private enterprise in ailing urban areas.


asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will take steps to relax planning, fire and building regulations so as to encourage private investment in city redevelopment.

As I said in the reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Thornton) on Monday 12 November 1979, I am hoping to publish proposals to reduce the scope of planning controls shortly. We are also taking a fundamental look at our system of building control, though we intend to maintain standards of health and safety. Fire regulations are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Is the Minister aware that the Liverpool city planning department has served compulsory purchase orders on two flourishing firms in the inner city? The premises are soon to be demolished and replaced by public housing at a time when 1,500 acres of public land are vacant within the inner city boundaries. Will the Minister curb the powers of local authorities to serve compulsory purchase orders? Will he tell them that their job is to help small businesses and not to destroy them?

I have constantly drawn to the attention of local authorities my suggestions that they should help to encourage small businesses. I am pleased to inform the House that the authorities in Liverpool are co-operating with me in examining, on a site by site basis, the 1,000 acres of substantial sites of derelict land within the area of the city.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that rigid zoning policies have often been the enemy of small inno vative private enterprises in inner city areas? Does he foresee the removal of some of those obstacles under his new proposal?

This matter requires looking at. We need policies of greater flexibility.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his encouraging answer, but may I emphasise that in my constituency one small business is prevented from starting up because of the rigidity of the planning norms?

I do not have details of the small business to which my hon. Friend refers, but he will be aware that it has a right of appeal to the Secretary of State.

Is the Secretary of State willing to accept that areas such as Merseyside and Liverpool will get investment only through public investment? Does he accept that the urban development corporation that he has announced for Merseyside is seen as a ray of hope if it means that resources will be put through that corporation and that it is not simply window-dressing?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's support for the urban development corporation. It supports the view I put forward that my proposals have been called for as loudly from the Opposition Benches as from my own. I assure the hon. Gentleman that this is an indication of the Government's commitment to the reclamation of two conspicuously derelict areas.

In view of the continuing high level of loss of life through fire, will my right hon. Friend persuade his colleagues to resist any suggestions made by my hon. Friends to relax fire precautions?

I very much hope that I made it clear in my original answer that we have no intention to prejudice safety.

Does the Secretary of State accept that his last remark will be welcomed by many hon. Members who consider that fire regulations are of the utmost importance? Is he aware of the serious fire risk that exists, particularly in houses of multi-occupation and houses for single people, and in hostels? Will he not reconsider the Government's attitude to the Private Member's Bill, to be introduced on Friday, of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean), which would help to correct matters?

I have made clear that this is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I must say at once that the general question of fire regulations is not a matter of current debate.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of the fire regulations in county Bills, having gone through the House and, therefore, being in draft stage in other respects, are of a higher standard than those incorporated in the national building regulations? Has he any intention to harmonise the two?

Fire regulations must be a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Will the Secretary of State heed the wise words of his hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) and resist the siren calls from some of his less responsible hon. Friends who are trying to create administrative no-go areas in English cities? Will he discuss with his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary the inner city area fire at Woolworth's in Manchester which was a holocaust. Is there any credence in the rumours that the Secretary of State intends to transfer responsibility for the administration of building regulations to private insurance companies?

I know of no one in the House who needs less prompting from me than my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on such issues of pulic interest as safety matters. I have made this clear. I am engaged in wide-ranging consideration of building regulations. The regulations cover a whole range of subjects. We do not intend to make changes that will prejudice public safety.

On the generality of building regulations, I have made clear, and I have publicly announced, that I am looking at the way in which they are administered to see whether we can find a better and more effective method of dealing with them. If I had to give an indication to the House that might support the arguments put forward from the Opposition Benches, I would acknowledge that there can be varying practices in the administration of building regulations at the discretion of about 400 authorities. This may not be considered to be in the best interests of the standards themselves.