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Sustainable Cities

Volume 461: debated on Wednesday 20 June 2007

As chair of the China Taskforce, I hold regular discussions on sustainable cities with a range of stakeholders across UK business, academia and Government, including Cabinet colleagues.

Creating sustainable cities is important to tackling climate change, especially in China, where 15 million people a year are expected to migrate to the cities over the next 20 years.

The taskforce has recently been working on a proposal for strengthening co-operation between the UK and China on developing sustainable cities within the framework of a low carbon economy.

In April this year, I discussed the taskforce proposal with State Councillor Tang and Premier Wen. I hope that a further report on sustainable cities will be presented at the summit of the two Premiers in the autumn.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and I am sure that the House will join me in warmly welcoming him back to the Front Bench after his recent illness.

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to discuss with his colleagues the innovative proposals for the renaissance of our cities that were unveiled in Bristol last Friday? Does he share his predecessor’s view that the best way to create sustainable cities is to cut the regional development agencies, the learning and skills councils and, for good measure, English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her kind remarks and for all the good wishes to me. I want especially to thank all the hard-working doctors, nurses and staff at University College hospital, who work day and night, as the staff in all our hospitals do, to help all of us who are suffering from illness. I think that every one of us would like to express our congratulations to all our NHS hospitals.

No, I do not agree with what Mr. Heseltine said in Bristol about the renaissance of cities. I have been in the House long enough to know that he went to Liverpool with a bus load of bankers and a Merseyside urban development corporation that gave no powers to the local authority, developed a garden city and led to further decline in Merseyside. If my hon. Friend examines the report of Labour, which has used the RDAs and English Partnerships, it is clear that we have been able to show that the major cities in this country, including Bristol and Liverpool, reflect the comments of Michael Parkinson in a recent review. He said:

“England’s cities are now better placed than at any time since the end of the 19th century to become motors of national advance…The years of decline and decay have been overcome.”

That is genuine renaissance; that is a decade of delivery.

I, too, welcome the Deputy Prime Minister back from his illness. How does he reconcile the claim in his annual report that he spent 10 years developing and implementing sustainable communities with the devastating report of the Sustainable Development Commission, to the effect that the Government’s housing programme is characterised by lack of consultation, poor design standards and lack of attention to public transport, shops and parks?

I just do not agree with that conclusion because of the number of houses we have built and the degree of our investment in transport. To provide one classic example, in 1997, I rescued the Channel tunnel rail link from going bankrupt. That was the most important investment in transport innovation in this country and was particularly important for the development of the whole south-east and the whole Olympic village. If we take into account the pathfinder formulas, the millennium village and the 2 million people now living in better accommodation as a result of our decent homes programme, I have no reason to make an apology. There have been improvements and people will make a judgment when they see the final conclusion.