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Washington, Peterlee And Aycliffe

Volume 76: debated on Wednesday 3 April 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the future of the Washington, Peterlee and Aycliffe new towns.

I announced on March 21 that the new town development corporations of Aycliffe, Peterlee and Washington would continue until 31 March 1988. That decision has been widely welcomed in the north-east.

Is the Secretary of State aware that that decision has been widely welcomed throughout the northeast, and especially by Labour Members? Will he confirm, however, that he is reducing the staffing and capital budgets of the Aycliffe and Peterlee development corporations from £12 million to £2 million at a time when unemployment in my constituency is 26·8 per cent.? In his reliance on private capital markets, is he aware that the development corporations were set up in the first place because of the failure of those markets?

The spending limits for all three authorities will be £11 million in 1986–87 and £8·5 million in 1987–88. We believe that that will give the development corporations ample opportunity to achieve the primary purpose of the extension — that is, to continue their promotional work and to complete the building work already in hand. In this context, I pay tribute to the way in which the development corporations have succeeded in attracting important investment to the north-east —notably the Nissan site, which I hope to visit in a few weeks' time.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his decision is generally applauded in the north-east and that at a time of industrial change it is absolutely right to retain the job-seeking functions of the corporations?

That is the primary purpose of extending the lives of the development corporations. I very much welcome the progress being made by Sir Ralph Carr-Ellison, who is seeking to establish a voluntary development body to perpetuate and, I hope, improve the work being done in attracting new firms to the north-east.

Is the Secretary of State aware that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment informed me in a written answer yesterday that 6,000 people in the borough of Sunderland have been unemployed for more than three years? In those circumstances, is it not disgraceful and absurd that a respected job-promoting agency should be closed down?

Yes, Mr. Speaker. With respect, I represent the new town of Washington, which is included in the question. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that, having created chaos in the north-east by not agreeing to an extension for the new town corporation—

Order. I thought that the Minister said that it was continuing. The hon. Gentleman talks as though it were closing down.

For your information, Mr. Speaker, the letter from the Department of the Environment about the future of the new town of Washington states that it has an extension of 2¼ years only and that it will then be closed down. Will the Minister pass a message to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that, chaos having been created in the north-east by obstacles being put in the way of the extension of the new town of Washington, by limiting it to 2¼ years and not to five years, for which we asked in reply to the consultative document, he is compounding the unemployment problem in that area?

' I am very fond of the hon. Gentleman, and we on the Conservative Benches respect him greatly, but I must say that he has got it wildly wrong. My decision to extend the life of these development corporations to 1988 has been warmly welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House and by the entire community of north-east London — [Interruption.] — England. I am only sorry that the hon. Gentleman was not able to join in the chorus of welcome for my decision.

As a former member of the board of Washington development corporation, I welcome my right hon. Friend's remarks this afternoon. Can my right hon. Friend tell the House whether the potential inward investment promotional rate of which he has been talking in respect of Washington, Peterlee and Aycliffe will apply also to other new town corporations, such as Telford, which adjoins my constituency, when they reach their winding-up dates?

No firm date has been set for the winding up of Telford development corporation, save that it will be towards the end of this decade. If there are promotional activities to be carried on after that, it will be for the business and local authority interests in the area to decide how best to carry that forward. It has always been recognised that the new town development corporations would have a limited life. It is to make sure that the essential functions of promotion are carried on that I have extended the life of these three in the north-east.

Is the Secretary of State aware that I am one person on the Labour Benches who gives only a cool welcome to the extension? Having regard to the National Coal Board's statements on pit closures since the end of the miners' strike, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, particularly in an area like mine, an extension of three years to Peterlee development corporation is simply inadequate? A minimum of five years is essential. Is he aware that he has cleverly put in blanket form the budgets for the three new towns? Is it not a fact—and will he come clean on this—that the budget for Peterlee development corporation is now less than half what it has been in the past? Will he say whether he is instructing Peterlee development corporation to reduce its staff?

It certainly would be appropriate that the staffing of the development corporations should match the resources that they have available. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I recognise that it is the concern of Aycliffe and Peterlee that they should have a fair share of the expenditure cake in comparison with Washington. This will be discussed with the corporations in the usual annual review of the finances.

Not representing any constituents in north-east London, I am not qualified to speak for them, but I am qualified to speak for the people in the non h-east. Perhaps the Minister would get it right. Will he accept that, after considerable pressure on him by my hon.

Friends to make a decision, the decision that he has made is wrong and the period is not long enough? It would make more sense, if he believes in being converted to the real world, to say that what is required is that the budget should be made much bigger. Finally, I welcome the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) into the real world. He has now left market forces. Perhaps the Minister should leave them as well.

The hon. Gentleman has recognised that the decision has been widely welcomed in the north-east, and that this now gives time for local authorities, the TUC and industrial organisations to work with Sir Ralph in order to bring into existence the new body, which I think will carry forward this promotional activity.