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Estates (Improvements)

Volume 403: debated on Thursday 10 April 2003

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1.

What extra funds are being made available for environmental improvements to, and redesign of, estates to discourage vandalism and drug abuse. [107466]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
(Mr. Michael Wills)

Although no specific funding is available for environmental improvements to estates, a number of funding streams can be tapped to redesign estates, discourage vandalism and tackle drug abuse. Home Office funding over and above the £9.6 billion allocated in 2003–04 to the police service includes £72.3 million for crime and disorder reduction partnerships and £50 million for police basic command units.

In addition, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has allocated £2 billion over 10 years to the new deal for communities; £400 million has been allocated in 2003–04 to the neighbourhood renewal fund; and £250 million has been committed over three years to improve the quality of public parks and spaces.

The Minister will agree that design is a way of minimising the problems of antisocial behaviour, vandalism and drug abuse. Bearing in mind the cleaner, safer, greener spaces initiative, will he ensure that the design of estates is taken into account when seeking to improve urban areas and will he consider greater coordination with all the various agencies involved in that work?

I am happy to give that assurance. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's work. She has been a doughty campaigner for her constituency. All Ministers are aware of the needs of Tower Hamlets, and it is partly as a result of that and her sterling efforts on its behalf that it is benefiting from the streams of Government funding—£10.6 million in 2003 from the neighbourhood renewal fund and £56.6 million from the new deal for communities.

I know that the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) would like to say a few words as a large part of the responsibility falls to his Department.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
(Mr. Tony McNulty)

The document to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) refers, "Living Places—Cleaner, Safer, Greener", was extended subsequently by the communities plan, "Sustainable communities: building for the future". At the core of that document is a real commitment to ensure that designs are central to all that we do in growth areas, low-demand housing areas, neighbourhood renewal areas and, indeed, everywhere across the piece of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. We are reviewing planning policy guidance and working closely with colleagues in the Home Office to update our documents on designing out crime rather than designing in crime, which has happened too often in the past when architects seem to have gone out of their way to do that.

I support the comments of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King), but does the Under-Secretary agree that the problem affects not just inner-city urban areas but all urban spaces, including even those in rural constituencies, and not just estates but all common places in urban areas? Does he also agree that maintenance of the built environment, as well as the improvement of the general environment, is useful? Put together, would the measures not have at least as much effect as some of those in the Anti-social Behaviour Bill that we discussed earlier this week?

I certainly agree with that, which is why I emphasise that design is at the core of all that we do in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. That applies not only 10 deprived areas and to neighbourhood renewal areas but across the piece in urban and rural areas in the north, the south and the midlands. That is especially true of new build, which is surrounded by low-maintenance but high-quality public spaces, small green spaces and parks. I therefore entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman.

Does the Under-Secretary for the Home Department agree that the experience in the United States in reducing problems, such as broken windows, and in providing policing to address urban disorder and crime shows conclusively that how an area is policed is as important as the amount of money invested to regenerate or to change it? If policing does not take place, we end up with examples such as the north Peckham estate in which a lot of money is invested in the immediate aftermath of a murder or tragedy. However, when policing levels are reduced, the same problems of disorder manifest themselves. What are the Government doing to link regeneration schemes to changing police practices to ensure that there are lower levels of crime and disorder?

Because the hon. Gentleman has cogently outlined the case for Government policies, I assume that we are assured of his support for the Anti-social Behaviour Bill and other measures that we are driving forward. He is, of course, right. Since we came to office in 1997, we have adopted holistic, joined-up approaches to solving those problems. We agree that we must not let any antisocial or disorderly behaviour go unchallenged and unpoliced. That requires investment by the Government, which is why we are investing in record numbers of police. Police numbers are now at the record level of more than 131,000, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that. It is impossible to achieve such a level of policing without investing sufficient money, and it would be impossible to achieve that if public spending were cut by 20 per cent.

The hon. Gentleman's second point that money alone is not sufficient is right. We need to see more police on the beat, which is why we have driven forward reforms through the Police Reform Act 2002 and the taskforce chaired by Sir David O'Dowd to cut the burden of bureaucracy on the police force to ensure that more police are on the streets. We are giving them the necessary tools to tackle the antisocial behaviour that makes so many people's lives a misery in all areas of the country. Given the hon. Gentleman's remarks, I hope that we can look forward to his support for the Anti-social Behaviour Bill, which will tackle many of those issues.

The Minister will know that we do not view the Anti-social Behaviour Bill with disfavour, but many of its provisions already exist—for example, aggressive beggars can already be dealt with under the Vagrancy Act 1966, and there are numerous other examples. The Government are reinventing the wheel. The powers are already there; the question is whether there are sufficient police to deliver new practices to ensure that provisions, whether they are in the Government's Bill or in earlier legislation, are enforced. There is ample evidence that there are not.

Everyone accepts that there is a great deal still to do. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the provisions of the Anti-social Behaviour Bill. He will find that the measures are necessary and will be invaluable tools for the police. It is true that the provisions are not all that the police need: we must ensure that they spend more time on the beat, that they are given the resources that they need and that the courts are equipped properly to process the various measures quickly enough. The problem is complex and requires action across the whole criminal justice system and in government, but we are tackling it with the necessary resources.