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Urban Regeneration

Volume 227: debated on Wednesday 30 June 1993

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what further plans he has to assist the regeneration of urban areas.


To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on current urban policy.


To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on his urban policies.

The Government will continue to support the regeneration of cities through their main programmes and through special measures. I am sure that the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Byers) welcomes the impact in his and other urban areas of measures such as city challenge, the urban development corporations, the urban partnership fund, city grant and estate action. The Tyne and Wear UDC alone has attracted more than £500 million to its area since 1987.

Is the Minister aware that, due to over-concentration in the property market during the late 1980s, six urban development corporations have made a loss of £67 million as a result of the drop in property values? What steps does the Minister intend to take to ensure that, in future, public money is used for job creation and not for property speculation?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not running down the excellent work of the Tyne and Wear urban development corporation in his constituency. There has been a net increase of more than 9,000 jobs in that area since the UDC started work. It has a budget of £37·5 million this year and is making progress in creating wealth, creating jobs and promoting enterprise in the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

Is the Minister aware that about 10,000 jobs and training places will be lost in Birmingham as a result of his decision to cancel the urban programme? Is he further aware that the city council spent £120,000 at his request to prepare the bids which he then cancelled at the last minute? Will he now apologise to the people of Birmingham and refund that £120,000?

The urban programme has not been cancelled. It is spending £7 million this year in Small Heath and is sponsoring about 10,000 projects throughout the country, promoting enterprise and wealth. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome Birmingham's success with city challenge, representing £7·5 million each year, a total of £37·5 million creating wealth, prosperity and jobs in Birmingham. He should look at the total investment in Birmingham from the Government and not concentrate on one small part of it.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in Liverpool, £17 million of urban programme money is being replaced by only £1·1 million of urban partnership, with the consequent destruction of more than 3,000 jobs? Is he further aware that in Dovecot in my constituency, investment in housing stock will now not be able to be supported by commensurate investment in the environment? What ideas does the Minister have to help the people of Dovecot improve their environment?

Again, the hon. Lady's constituency was a successful bidder for city challenge, and the rewards for city challenge far outweigh the value of the urban programme. In addition to that, there is a housing action trust in Liverpool and we have the Merseyside task force and the urban development corporation. I urge the hon. Lady to look at the totality of investment by the Government in Liverpool. She will find that it has been very substantial indeed.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the fact that Government as a whole are now putting about £4 billion per annum through targeted initiatives into urban areas in this country? Will he look at the important priorities in many urban areas, including in my constituency, and the need to help target the relatively high levels of inner town urban unemployment? I appreciate the way in which his Department is assisting in that work.

Will my right. hon. Friend also look at a matter about which he knows I am particularly concerned, and that is the difficulty with premises that are currently hotels which can be turned into hostels without seeking change of use planning permission? That issue is of great concern and is having damaging effects on the legitimate tourism industry. I appreciate that he and his ministerial colleagues are aware of the position. I welcome their interest and hope that my right hon. Friend will examine the matter.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. He raised, in the latter part of his supplementary question, an issue that has been raised with me by a number of my hon. Friends who represent seaside resorts. I propose to discuss the subject with my ministerial colleagues in the Department of Social Security to see whether further steps might be necessary. I welcomed a note of sanity and perspective in the first part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question in relation to the debate on inner cities. It is indeed the case that since 1979 there has been a fourfold real increase in urban spending by my Department.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the better aspects, arising out of the list of grants to which he referred, is the flexibility with which grants are applied? Will he continue with that flexibility and imagination, especially as they are applied in Calder Valley?

Yes, indeed. The Department is anxious to get the best value from its programmes. We have a competitive regime which rewards local authorities and voluntary organisations that put forward value-for-money schemes which bring with them private funding and create jobs in their areas. I shall look with interest at any projects coming from my hon. Friend's constituency.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is necessary, for urban programmes to succeed, to have efficient and honest local authorities? Is he convinced that the local authority of Lambeth is efficient or honest? Does he agree that it is high time that the commissioners were sent in to run that council in the way it was once run?

Like my hon. Friend, I read the report prepared by the former chief executive, Herman Ouseley, on the London borough of Lambeth, and it contained a number of worrying allegations which, I know, are being followed up in the appropriate quarters. It is a matter for concern if any local authority misuses its ratepayers'; funds, and the appropriate avenues are available to people through the police or the district auditor.

Does the Minister recall the last Conservative election manifesto, ironically entitled "The Best Future for Britain", which claimed that our cities had been transformed? After the abolition of the urban programme—as the Minister knows very well, there are to be no new schemes under that programme—and the loss of 34,000 inner city jobs, after the abandonment of city challenge, of which there is to be no third round, and after announcing savage cuts of more than one third in urban funding over the next three years, I am sure that the whole House agrees that our cities have indeed been transformed. Does not the Minister accept that it is high time the Government started to celebrate and support cities, instead of undermining them and denying them the resources that they so desperately need?

I do not know how the hon. Gentleman has the nerve to come to the House and say such a thing. I have here a copy of The Guardian of 15 June, which, referring to the hon. Gentleman, says:

"He also said that Labour had been neglecting the inner cities and needed a new strategy."
Those are not my words; they are the words of the hon. Gentleman. He went on to talk about the establishment of an inquiry called City 2020–2020 being, presumably, the earliest year in which he thinks a Labour Government will take office. This inquiry, for inspiration, is to start by looking at the socialist stewardship of areas such as Lambeth, Islington and Hackney.

Will my right hon. Friend think again about his Department's refusal to grant housing action trust money to Copley close in my constituency, in respect of which a very good case was made? I hope that he will see that that very important and deserving estate is given the help that it greatly needs.

My hon. Friend and the London borough of Ealing are perfectly capable of putting forward another bid for estate action funds for that estate. We shall continue the estate action programme next year. If my hon. Friend would like to talk to the councillors and the director of housing of the borough and then resubmit the bid, we shall see whether, within resources, we can help.