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Special Urban Development Zones

Volume 525: debated on Wednesday 16 March 2011

Motion for leave to introduce a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State to create Special Urban Development Zones; to set out the criteria on which such Zones must be designated, including criteria relating to Housing Market Renewal Initiative status and areas of multiple deprivation; and for connected purposes.

My aim in introducing the Bill is simple—to see areas blighted by entrenched multiple deprivation given the targeted attention they so desperately and urgently need, and to try to give Members on the Government Benches—the few who are here—some comfort or reassurance. I am not talking about yet another bureaucratic layer for its own sake, or about a new network of talking shops. The public do not set much store by what we in Liverpool would call Mickey Mouse gimmicks. I am talking about intensive intervention capable of delivering meaningful, measurable and tangible results that link in with and complement the soon to be introduced enterprise zones, local enterprise partnerships and other such Government initiatives. For some of our more blighted areas, this is long overdue. For those who live their daily lives in such conditions, the proposals are a matter of the utmost urgency. I propose the introduction of specified development zones and their roll-out out across the whole country. I will use the example of north Liverpool, for purely illustrative purposes, to explain my motivation and serve as justification for the Bill.

I should first explain that my interest in the north of the city is not purely political, although my constituency covers a large portion of it—or at least, it will until it is realigned by the Deputy Prime Minister’s spurious measure of an arbitrary, arithmetical norm. For me, the Bill’s proposals are personal, as they will be to other representatives of disadvantaged constituencies. I have lived in Walton all my married life and witnessed with anguish and frustration the social and economic stagnation in certain wards. I am determined to see something done about it.

Let me start by reminding right hon. and hon. Members of the bigger picture. In recent months, I have had cause on several occasions to recite some of the grim statistics that place Liverpool in the top five or so places nationally of every possible index of deprivation, and the city is at the very top of that unenviable league table when the indices are combined. On those occasions, I have been disappointed by the indifferent, even mocking, responses from some Members on the Government Benches. Some of that I attribute simply to ignorant or baseless prejudice, but some of it has to do with people becoming immune and insensitive when repeatedly exposed to hard-grained, albeit abstract, facts. To borrow from an infamous aphorism, the poverty of one is a tragedy; the poverty of many a mere statistic.

Whatever the case, Liverpool’s socio-economic problems are common knowledge, but what many outsiders will not know is that in north Liverpool they are disproportionately concentrated and the consequences correspondingly magnified. A complex and historical mix of issues, such as low educational attainment, a low skills base, high welfare dependency, poor housing, low or unskilled employment, which is often casual, and poverty of aspiration have made for a potent, self-perpetuating, cyclical cocktail of disadvantage and marginalisation.

In recent times, against the odds, Liverpool has come on in leaps and bounds, which is to be commended and celebrated. Many Members, even on the Labour Benches, will be astonished at our city’s transformation and urban renaissance when the party has its conference there later in the year, just as the Lib Dems were when they visited.

It remains, however, a tale of two cities in one, a sub sub-regional north-south divide. The wealth, opportunity and aspiration so evident in the centre and elsewhere have not filtered through to north Liverpool. That has long been the case. In the 19th century, well-healed visitors to the city wrote with pity and horror about its poor, most of whom were clustered, even then, in the inner north. The Victorian street urchins and the notorious back-to-back dwellings are long gone, but the causes and effects of poverty that characterised large swathes of the city’s underclass in those northern suburbs persist today. That is unconscionable.

I blame no particular Administration or party. Over the years various well-intentioned local, regional and national initiatives have aimed at reviving the area, but they foundered, overwhelmed by the scale of the difficulties they face or bogged down by conflicting or competing priorities. The soon-to-be defunct housing market renewal initiative essentially recognised what we need to do and made some progress, but ultimately it was neither sufficiently focused nor sufficiently geographically specific to meet north Liverpool’s needs. In any case, it tackled only one of a plethora of problems.

It is time to get to grips with the situation once and for all. The difficulties in the north of the city might have become entrenched, but I refuse to accept that they are insurmountable. As my predecessor, Peter Kilfoyle, argued consistently in this place and in Liverpool, the plight of north Liverpool powerfully demonstrates why we need a fresh, full-spectrum approach to deprivation hot spots, both to tackle the root causes and to address the effects.

Through this Bill, I envisage the creation of designated special urban development zones, intelligently configured according to multiple deprivation indices and housing market renewal intervention status. Each SUDZ would comprise an operational framework consisting of three elements: first, a clear and holistic strategy with realistic and measurable objectives: a focused strategy, unashamedly biased in favour of the interests of the zone; and a strategy devised, developed and monitored with a single purpose in mind—the whole-scale and sustainable regeneration of the area in question.

Secondly, there would be funding—yes, funding—or at least additional resources and/or tax incentives. It is all very well banging on about austerity measures, but, as I have pointed out repeatedly in this place, any economy that grows while concentrations of deprivation throughout the country are simply left to fester and rot is an utterly false, foolish and precarious economy. It is also morally reprehensible.

Thirdly, there would be a dedicated delivery vehicle: an independent, stand-alone authority that was suitably equipped and sufficiently robust to work with partners on an equal footing, and with the ways and means—in other words, the clout—to get things done.

I have used north Liverpool as a case in point. It is what I know best; it is my priority; and in my view its regeneration ought to be high on the to-do list of any competent, right-minded Government. But there are many north Liverpools, dotted throughout the country, facing equal hardship and equally deserving of the action I suggest. I propose this Bill on their behalf, too.

Were the Bill to be enacted, it would signal a clear commitment by this allegedly progressive Government to tackling poverty and inequality. Inaction borne of apathy, indifference or something more cynical is no longer an option, and I therefore beg leave to bring in the Bill.

Order. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy, but he cannot make a comment on the Bill. He is either opposing it or not.

Question put and agreed to.


That Steve Rotheram, Mrs Louise Ellman, Stephen Twigg, Luciana Berger, Graham Jones, Bill Esterson, Catherine McKinnell, Mr Joe Benton, Mr Dave Watts, Ian Murray, Thomas Docherty and Tom Greatrex present the Bill.

Steve Rotheram accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 17 June and to be printed (Bill 163).